Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata [12:22]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata [15:54]
Ma Mère l’Oye [14:44]
Sonatine [11:36]
Michèle Auclair (violin)
Jacqueline Bonneau (piano)
Geneviève Joy (piano: l’Oye)
Marie-Thérèse Fourneau (piano: sonatine)
rec. 1955/57, Salle Adyar, Maison de la Mutualité, Paris

Michèle Auclair was born in Paris into a musical family, her father and grandfather being amateur musicians and painters. She took up the violin at the age of four. Line Talluel was her first teacher, who also taught the 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. Then in 1946 she carried off the 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 - taken with Theodore and Alice Pashkus in New York. Theodore got her to do some recordings on the Remington label, produced by Don Gabor.  In the mid-sixties, she 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.

On this disc she is partnered in the Debussy and Ravel Sonatas by Jacqueline Bonneau (1917-2007). Their musical collaborations began in 1956. Bonneau had studied with Lazare Levy and, whilst at the Paris Conservatoire, had been a contemporary of Paul Tortelier and Henri Dutilleux in the harmony class. Her concert career was launched in 1945, the same year that she formed a two-piano partnership with Geneviève Joy (1919-2009), who incidentally married Dutilleux in 1946. The other pianist featured on this release is Marie-Thérèse Fourneau (1927-2000). She studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Marguerite Long, Joseph Calvet and Jean Doyen, graduating with the Premier Prix de Piano in 1942. She won first prize in Geneva in 1946. Sadly, her career was cut short by multiple sclerosis.

It’s a pity that, in the two violin sonatas, the piano is too forwardly projected as this, to some extent, renders the violin tone somewhat less colourful, being positioned far back in the aural perspective. Nevertheless, these are animated performances, idiomatic and informed with resourcefulness and imagination. There’s real passion and fervour in the playing. In the Ravel, which to my mind is the more successful of the two in warmer sound, Auclair makes the blues movement jazzy and improvisatory, yet without sounding mannered. She throws all caution to the wind in a performance of vitality and élan. Throughout, rubato is well-judged and never sounds over the top.

Jacqueline Bonneau and Geneviève Joy get together for a scintillating reading of the four-hand version of Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye, bringing a quasi-orchestral sound to the proceedings. They have an instinctive feel for this music, successfully matching phrasing and dynamics. Ensemble between the players is impeccable. The way they bring out the playful aspects of the score is impressive, and the climax at the end of ‘Le jardin féerique’ is exhilarating.

This recording of the Ravel Sonatine has to be one of the finest on disc. Despite its age it is beautifully captured, with a favourable acoustic. I notice the venue isn’t identified by Forgotten Records. Fourneau, who I have never come across before, proves a persuasive advocate of this score. Nicely paced, the reading is idiomatic and elegant. The beguiling luminosity of her playing highlights the composer’s impressionistic harmonic colourings.

This is a very interesting and worthwhile collection. With top-class re-masterings, I do not hesitate in giving it my wholehearted endorsement.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf