Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major [16:02]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No. 1 Sz. 86-88, BB 94 [9:55]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Suite in G major [10:23]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo Concertante [15:10]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasy in C major, D.934 [22:14]
Michèle Auclair (violin)
Jacqueline Bonneau (piano) (Ravel); Jean-Claude Ambrosini (piano) (Bartók); Geneviève Joy (piano) (Telemann, Stravinsky & Schubert)
rec. Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, 25 November 1958 (Ravel); 23 September 1960 (Bartok) Radio Studio Recordings; Bordeaux, Grand Théâtre, Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (Telemann, Stravinsky, Schubert), live.
MELOCLASSIC MC2014 [73:32]
In the annals of performing history, it is amazing to learn that Michèle Auclair’s introduction to the violin came via listening to a performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata at the age of only six. This led her to ask her parents for lessons. Born in Paris in 1924, she hailed from a very cultured family. Her father and grandfather were not only amateur musicians but painters also. It was in this artistically nurturing environment that her prodigious talent was cultivated.
Line Talluel was her first teacher who, incidentally, taught that other great French violinist Ginette Neveu. She then went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jules Boucherit, Jacques Thibaud and Boris Kamensky. In 1943 she was prize winner of the first Marguerite Long – Jacques Thibaud Competition; Samson François, a later close friend, won the piano prize. As a prize-winner she was rewarded with the opportunity to record Haydn’s First Violin Concerto for Pathé Records, a France-based international record label, conducted by her teacher Jacques Thibaud. Then in 1946 she won first prize in the Geneva International Competition. This propelled her onto the world stage and an international career beckoned.
After the war, Auclair travelled to the USA for further studies with Theodore and Alice Pashkus in New York. Theodore got her to do some recordings on the Remington label, produced by Don Gabor. In 1950 she made her first recording for Remington of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the conductor Kurt Wöss. Others followed including the Bruch Concerto and some Kreisler arrangements. These recordings have been issued on CD in Japan on the elusive Green Door label. Like many Remingtons, the pressings can be less than ideal. For improved sound one needs to look to her later Philips recordings and those she made for Erato.
Sadly, in the mid-sixties, Auclair was involved in an automobile accident which put paid to her career as a soloist. She devoted the rest of her life to teaching and supporting young violinists both at the National Conservatory of Music in Paris (1969-1989), and at the New England Conservatory in Boston (1989-2002). She died in Paris on 10 June 2005, aged eighty.
With a relatively slender discography, this Meloclassic issue is highly appreciated: a first CD release of historical recordings, including works not taken into the studio by the violinist. Listening to those recordings and summing up her playing, I cannot but echo the sentiments of J.F. Indcox in High Fidelity in August 1954. He wrote of her Tchaikovsky Concerto recording: "Auclair gives a most striking performance, brimful of fire, if a trifle impetuous, which exposes a very solid and sure technique."
The Ravel Sonata was never recorded by her commercially. It has been interesting comparing Johanna Martzy’s radio recording of 1965 on Coup d’Archet (COUP CD001) with this one. Both violinists were born in 1924. Martzy’s rendition from seven years later in 1965 is in brighter and more immediate sound. However, what came as a surprise was that Auclair’s Ravel is much more spontaneous with an innate sense of freedom and fantasy. Martzy sounds more self-conscious and the performance as a whole more calculated. Auclair, eschewing this strait-jacketed and hemmed-in approach, makes the blues movement more jazzy and improvisatory, yet without sounding mannered. She throws all caution to the wind in a performance of vitality and élan.
Watching some film of Auclair, I was struck by the strength and force of her right arm, bowing near to the bridge to obtain maximum power and sonority. This enables her to project a certain amount of tonal opulence especially in the Bartok Rhapsodie. She also imbues the Stravinsky Duo with ruggedness and grit. Employing a flexible vibrato, she projects these works with a multiplicity of tonal colour and allure.
The Telemann is beautifully realized, lyrical and expressive, the reading crowned with rich, warm tone and pure intonation.
I compared this live Schubert Fantasy with the violinist’s studio recording on Erato (WPCS-22084/5) from five years earlier, again with Geneviève Joy. I didn’t find the two performances poles apart. Indeed, they’re almost identical interpretively and in conception. The live airing does suffer some technical slips, one particularly noticeable at 3:53, but these in no way detract from a truly spontaneous reading which takes fire, inspired by the live event. What we hear is strongly argued with a heady mix of drama and expressive lyricism. Both Auclair, and her long-time accompanist Geneviève Joy, judge the ebb and flow of this multi-sectioned work with intelligence, maintaining structure and integrity throughout. They’ve clearly played it together many times and have a mutual understanding. Indeed all three pianists featured are sympathetic collaborators.
Sound quality throughout is more than acceptable for the vintage. Announcements in French are retained, which is advantageous in that we nostalgically experience the performances in the context in which they were first heard. Booklet notes provide a helpful biographical background - in English only. Whilst Michèle Auclair’s star did not shine as brightly as did that of Johanna Martzy, Erica Morini or Ginette Neveu in the violinistic firmament she is, nevertheless, a violinist who deserves a wider audience. This issue is well worth the investment – indeed a revelation.