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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.40 (1917) [15:01]
The Four Seasons; Concertino de printemps, for violin Op.135 (1934) [8:45]: Concertino d’été, for viola (1951) [13:28] Concertino d’automne for two pianos and eight instruments (1951) [9:29]: Concertino d’hiver, for trombone and strings, Op.327 (1953) [12:21] [43:05]
Robert Soetens (violin) and Suzanne Roche (piano) (sonata)
Szymon Goldberg (violin); Ernst Wallfisch (viola); Geneviève Joy and Jacqueline Bonneau (pianos); Maurice Suzan (trombone) Ensemble des soloists des Concerts Lamoureux/Darius Milhaud (seasons)
rec. 1953, Paris (Sonata) and June 1958, Paris (The Four Seasons)
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR809 [59:26]

Some of Milhaud’s less recorded music is here, in LP premiere recordings made in the 1950s. Even today you’d have a hard job hearing the Second Violin Sonata in recital. What’s interesting about this 1953 recording is that it is, I believe, the only commercial recording made by Robert Soetens. A number of private recordings have survived - none of major works - but otherwise the thing for which French violinist Soetens is best known is for being the dedicatee and first performer of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. A brief word about him: Soetens (1897-1997) was a pupil of Ysaÿe and later d’Indy. He premiered Ravel’s Tzigane in 1925, toured widely and gave his last public performance at the age of 95. He lived to 100. The English premiere of the Prokofiev Concerto with Soetens and Henry Wood - Soetens had premiered the work in Madrid in 1935 - was once issued on CD by the BBC Music Magazine.
 
Milhaud’s Sonata was a favourite of Hungarian fiddler, André Gertler, who recorded it no fewer than three times (with three different pianists, on, chronologically, Muza, Praga and Supraphon) but the first recording honour fell to Soetens. The work was dedicated to André Gide, and is a compact four-movement affair written when the composer was in his mid-twenties. The opening is deceptively impressionistic because Milhaud soon asserts his youthful rhythmic sparkle. He takes the fiddle high in the taut cantilena of the slow movement; Suzanne Roche accompanies and partners sympathetically. There’s a crisp march rhythm in the finale. The work is not yet characteristic of the composer, but you can see what attracted both Soetens, Gertler and in more recent times Frank Peter Zimmerman.
 
The Four Seasons is the umbrella title for a series of four concertinos written between 1934 and 1953. No one would seriously consider programming them in concert - at least I don’t think they would - not least given that they come from different periods of musical development. They’re also written for differently sized accompanying ensembles which vary in orchestration. Szymon Goldberg is the violin soloist in the Concertino de printemps and he is perfectly suited to the work’s elegant precision. Goldberg’s classical purity of tone finds a worthy vehicle in the briefest of the four concertinos. The Concertino d’été, written for viola, was composed 17 years later. The viola, played by Ernst Wallfisch, offers a darker perspective to the concertante writing, and the rather vertical wind accompanying figures and baroque punctuation points add their own personalised gloss too. There are plenty of vivid, rhythmically vital exchanges. This concertino was composed when Milhaud was at Mills College in California, as was the Concertino d’automne for two pianos and eight instruments. This was written for the duo of Gold and Fizdale but is played in this recording, under the composer’s direction, by Geneviève Joy and Jacqueline Bonneau. There’s a bit of overload in places, and the passages when the three horns are dominant add a layer of darkening breadth, but gradually a divertissement feel emerges. The last of the four is Concertino d’hiver, for trombone and strings, composed in 1953, whilst Milhaud was crossing the Atlantic by ship. He places the trombone soloist against a string orchestra. None of these concertinos is remotely conventional when it comes to Vivaldian expectations of weather painting. This one is no exception. Characterful and bumptious there’s also plenty of lyrical, indeed feelingly noble writing for the unexpected solo instrument; much colour is evoked by Maurice Suzan abetted by the knowing composer on the rostrum.
 
There are no notes but as so often Forgotten Records provides some useful internet links for further reading. This somewhat unusual but delightful coupling derives from good sounding LPs transfers.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

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