French Violinists

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924) [9:04]
Jeanne Gautier (violin)
Orchester des Reichssenders Frankfurt/Hans Rosbaud, rec. live, May 1937, Frankfurt
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6, MS21 (1815) [30:15]
René Benedetti (violin)/Orchestre Symphoniques des Concerts Lamoureux/Eugène Bigot, rec. September 1941, Paris
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Violin Sonata in D major, Op.12 (1855) [13:03]
Renée Chemet (violin); Nicole Rollet (piano), rec. live, November 1947, Paris
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Sonata for violin and continuo, Op.9 No.3: Tambourin (c.1728), arr. Kreisler [2:20]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in B flat major; Rondo, K.378 (1779-81) [4:06]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise, Op.83 (1887) [9:04]
Jacques Thibaud (violin); Marinus Flipse (piano), rec. live, April 1953, Frankfurt
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
I Palpiti, Op.13, MS77 (1819) [11:21]
Miguel Candéla (violin) Simone Gouat (piano), rec. live, January 1955, Paris
MELOCLASSIC MC2016 [79:17]
The relatively new label Meloclassic has outdone itself here, with a spectacular series of restorations taken from a variety of source material. The focus is on French violinists – Jeanne Gautier, René Benedetti, Renée Chemet, Jacques Thibaud and Miguel Candela – of whom, I think, only Thibaud will be familiar to general listeners.
To violin collectors, and bearing in mind the date of the source material which is 1937 to 1955, expectancy levels will be very high indeed. Who would have expected to hear the quintessential French player Jeanne Gautier recorded by Frankfurt Radio in June 1937 with the Orchester des Reichssenders Frankfurt directed by Hans Rosbaud? The piece is Ravel’s Tzigane, and it may remind one that she recorded the 1927 Sonata in G with Léfebure on a 7” LP on Chant du Monde and also the 1922 Sonata with cellist André Levy, her colleague, alongside Geneviève Joy, in the Trio de France. The 1937 recording has some degradation but the harp comes through clearly and Rosbaud’s typically astute direction is very pleasing to hear. Gautier is her typically resinous self, bringing considerable character to the piece. Contrasts with Gautier’s contemporary Zino Francescatti’s three altogether more patrician studio recordings are fascinating.
Next we hear the jewel of this CD though it’s not live. This is the restoration, the first I’ve heard, of René Benedetti’s recording of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto, made in September 1941, in war-torn Paris, with the Orchestre Symphoniques des Concerts Lamoureux under Eugène Bigot. This is simply stunning. The cadenza, alone, was once included in Thomas Clear’s LP boxes of great violin performances (TC 2580) but to hear the whole thing is to experience one of the great Paganini concerto performances. By all accounts Benedetti had a big tone, though one wouldn’t necessarily think so from the recording, but his effortless digital legerdemain, his stylistic brilliance, and sheer flair, have to be savoured in full. Savoir faire, superb intonation, witty Gallic insouciance, magnificent bowing, legato refinement, subtle vibrato usage – where does one begin in measuring Benedetti’s glittering and magnificent playing? There are a few small glitches in the restoration, not helped by Benedetti’s pronounced habit of slowing right down into disc turn-overs. Notice how the trill episode at 4:09, after which he picks up the tempo like a bullet, has caused side-join problems. This happens elsewhere too but the pleasure of hearing this full-on recording very much outweighs such matters. Finally, this ensemble was clearly considered just the thing for Paganini because once war was over the orchestra and conductor reconvened to accompany a new rising star in the same work, Ruggiero Ricci.
I was amazed to see the name Renée Chemet in this disc. No one has ever got to the bottom of what happened to her, and no one seems to know when she died. She returned to Europe from a sojourn in Japan in 1935 and presumably settled in Paris because she performed there during the war. This example dates from November 1947, and documents the Lalo Sonata in D major with Nicole Rollet. Chemet was once a popular recording artist, notably in Britain after the First War, but by now she had long been forgotten which adds poignancy to her appearance here. The recording set-up is rather domestic sounding with a tinny piano and what sounds like some light cross-station interference. She was always cited for her idiosyncratic bowing, and things hadn’t much changed, and in her 60s she can be slithery. She’s full of style and despite the unflattering recording her technique seems largely intact. How surprising and valuable to encounter her again.
Despite claiming first CD release status for everything, that assuredly isn’t the case with two of the Thibaud pieces - the Mozart and Saint-Saëns - which were released on Malibran CDRG179 some years ago. The Leclair Tambourin, in the Kreisler arrangement, is however new to me. Thibaud’s tone had long since thinned but his panache and charm are still in evidence. The Leclair is sensitively shaped though it won’t efface memories of his 1925 recording of it with pianist Harold Craxton. Finally there is another outstanding representative of the French tradition, Miguel Candéla, heard in I Palpiti with pianist Simone Gouat in 1955. This is a most valuable restoration as he recorded no Paganini commercially. His insinuating playing carries a whiff of the fragrant about it and whilst he’s not in Benedetti’s league as a technician he always had a strongly personalised approach, as anyone who has heard his splendid pre-war concerto performances of Saint-Saëns and Glazunov will know. This is another outstanding reclamation.
There are useful biographical notes printed in the digi-pack. This is a wonderful CD – a real feast for violin lovers and specifically for those who revere French players.
Jonathan Woolf