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Mina jubilee
Nilla Pierrou (violin)
Track-listing at end of review
rec. 1973-85
OAK GROVE CD2030 [4 CDs: 77:45 + 76:09 + 78:30 + 67:49]

I reviewed the previous set on Oak Grove devoted to the art of violinist Nilla Pierrou, and now, with gratifying rapidity, comes another box of four CDs with more preserved performances that are largely from live broadcasts.
The first CD explores her affinity with Bach. It’s accomplished playing as shown by the two solo concertos, both previously released on an Opus LP. She favours quite slow, elastic tempi, with lots of soft playing. The Sonata for violin and keyboard is with her sonata partner Eugène De Canck in 1984, whilst from eight years earlier we can hear the Partita in D minor with the Chaconne. Again she pays considerable attention to dynamic shaping and whilst the Chaconne itself is relatively measured it is thoughtfully conceived.
The second disc is given over to three sonatas. I find her performance of Brahms’s A major (live, Brussels, 1984) rather undifferentiated throughout its three movements. It’s not just that she is quite slow again, as Grumiaux and Goldberg, two outstanding Brahms players, were equally so, but rather more that her accents lack bite. I don’t feel she is at her best here, nor in Beethoven’s G major sonata (live, Brussels, 1984) which is taken at an Aaron Rosand tempo. There are a few insignificant slips from both players and Pierrou’s intonation is not above reproach, but whilst this is a sensitively shaped performance, the finale is rather sluggish. The centrepiece of this disc is Albert Huybrechts’s 1925 sonata. The Belgian composer shows the influence of Florent Schmitt and of Debussian harmonies, as well as Franckian late-Romantic residue. This makes it appear more of a compound than actually it sounds, and it sounds fascinating and even at points mystic. It’s been recorded before but this is a really excellent performance and stylistically truly apt.
More sonatas and smaller pieces take up disc three. Bror Beckman’s c.1890 sonata is by turns lyrical and urgent. The Swedish composer’s sonata may be somewhat discursive, the finale particularly, but it certainly doesn’t lack for interest. However Grieg’s youthful 1865 First Sonata is made of clearly greater stuff; the energy level of the folkloric fiddling is an apt invitation to Pierrou who takes the opportunity gratefully. Both these sonatas were recorded in Swedish Radio studios in 1980 and released on Caprice CAP 1198. They catch her tone’s breadth better than the live tapes and the balance between her and De Canck is better too. In fact these are the best sounding items and reveal more of her playing, and her secure ensemble with De Canck, than anywhere else. They play Schubert’s Duo most attractively, and evoke Stenhammar’s Romance with considerable warmth. Pierrou was a student of Hungarian fiddler André Gertler and she plays his compatriot Kodály’s Dances from Kállai, in the 1958 Feighin arrangement, with considerable excitement but also control.
The last disc reverts to concertos. First is Lars-Erik Larsoon’s 1952 Concerto with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jorma Panula, live in March 1982. A photograph reproduced in the outstanding booklet shows Pierrou sitting next to the composer on the occasion of that performance. I’m sure he was mightily pleased with her reading, which sounds first class. Such a shame, therefore, that she was too backwardly recorded, so that it makes detail difficult to hear at times. We can’t truly appreciate, for example, her full range of tone colours or subtle bowing in the slow movement. In the first movement she plays the cadenza by her teacher Gertler, who was so instrumental in helping the composer in this work. Is there no other surviving document extant of her playing this lovely concerto? In Amsterdam in 1973, live with the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra and Frédéric Devreese, she plays Ysaÿe Chant d’hiver and shows a fine sense of balance between its romanticist and impressionist moments. Finally there is the Berg Violin Concerto with the German Youth Orchestra under Georg A. Albrecht, live in March 1978. Tempi are extremely well judged and transitions are marked perceptively. Her rapport with Albrecht seems strong from this showing. It also reflects the strength of Pierrou’s intellectual understanding, fortunately preserved in this Bavarian Radio tape in fine sound.
This four disc set contains a large 44-page booklet in Swedish with English translation. It reprints a letter from Larsson to Gertler regarding the latter’s considerable help in its composition, and not just in the cadenza. There are also potted biographies on the artists who collaborate with her, about whom regretfully I’ve had little room to say much if anything. The story of the 1973 Vianna da Motta violin competition and the shenanigans amongst the jurors makes for eyebrow-raising reading, and the score card is reproduced.
Nilla Pierrou was 65 when this box was released toward the end of 2012. Her jubilee has been admirably celebrated in this box, which pays due tribute to her thoughtful musicianship.
Jonathan Woolf  

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita in D minor for solo violin BWV 1004 (1720) [26:41]
Live, Studio 4, RTBF Brussels, 1976
Sonata for violin and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1015 (before 1725) [13:45]
Eugène De Canck (piano), live, RTBF Brussels, October 1984
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (c.1730) [16:51]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 (c.1730) [19:48]
Oskarshamnsensemblen/Claes Merithz, July 1980 ex Opus 3 8012 (LP)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major Op.100 (1886) [23:36]
Eugène De Canck (piano), live, RTBF Brussels, October 1984
Albert HUYBRECHTS (1899-1938)
Violin Sonata (1925) [22:20]
Eugène De Canck (piano), live, RTBF Brussels, February 1985
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.10 in G major, Op.96 (1812) [29:47]
Eugène De Canck (piano), live, RTBF Brussels, November 1984
Bror BECKMAN (1866-1929)
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op.1 (c.1890) [26:41]
Eugène De Canck (piano), Swedish Radio, Studio 2 March 1980, ex Caprice CAP1198 (LP)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No.1 in F major, Op.8 (1865) [21:05]
Eugène De Canck (piano), Swedish Radio, Studio 2 March 1980, ex Caprice CAP1198 (L)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for violin and piano in A major, ‘Duo’ D574 (Op. Posth) [18:56]
Eugène De Canck (piano), live, RTBF Brussels, November 1984
Wilhelm STEHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Sentimental Romance in F minor, Op.28 (1910) [6:23]
Eugène De Canck (piano), VRT Brussels, 1976
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Dances from Kállai (1937 rev 1950 arr. Feighin in 1958) [5:07]
Eugene De Canck (piano), RTBF Brussels, May 1983
Lars-Erik LARSSON (1908-1986)
Violin Concerto, Op.42 (1952) [26:29]
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Jorma Panula, live March 1982
Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Chant d’hiver, Op.15 (1902) [15:20]
Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra/Frédéric Devreese, live August 1973
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto ‘In Memory of an Angel’ (1935) [25:30]
German Youth Orchestra/Georg A. Albrecht, live March 1978 

Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos