Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op.102 (1887) [31:02]
Sergei PROKOVIEV (1892 -1953)
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.58 (1933-38) [30:39]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Elégie, Op. 24 (c.1896) [7:21]
Maurice Gendron (cello); Arthur Grumiaux (violin)
Südfunk Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Hans Müller-Kray (Brahms)
Hessischen Radio Symphony Orchestra/Otto Matzerath (Prokofiev), Sixten Ehrling (Fauré)
rec. January 1956, Villa Berg, Stuttgart (Brahms); February 1956 (Prokofiev) and October 1962 (Fauré), Room 1B, Frankfurt, Hessischer Radio
MELOCLASSIC MC3011 [69:03]

The focus here falls on cellist Maurice Gendron. It also falls, to a degree, on the life of a soloist charting two major radio recordings given in German cities just over a month apart. The first was given in Stuttgart in January 1956 and the second, five weeks later in Frankfurt.

On 17 January Gendron joined Arthur Grumiaux and conductor Hans Müller-Kray, who directed the Südfunk Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart for a performance of Brahms’ Double Concerto. This is the second example of Gendron known to me in this work – there’s a live performance with Menuhin, conducted by István Kertész released by the BBC. I’m not aware Grumiaux ever recorded it commercially or that many performances have been preserved; I’ve never heard the Monteux-conducted one where Grumiaux was partnered by Antonio Janigro, released on Stradivarius. In any case, given the relative rarity of the Janigro/Monteux, it makes the survival of this studio performance that much more exciting.

Interestingly Gendron had played the Brahms Double, with Grumiaux, at his Vienna debut in March 1949. Doubtless other performances followed over the ensuing years and the ensemble matured to the point where they were taped in January 1956. The Franco-Belgian nature of the entente – Gendron was born in Nice in 1920, Grumiaux the following year - is strongly in evidence, abetted by a rigorously solid, unspectacular orchestral sound-world projected by the reliable Müller-Kray. There are a very few intonation slips by Grumiaux. This well-paced performance – the central movement is especially so – has expressive richness and more than most performances endorses the sense of musico-narrative rapprochement intended by its composer. The finale, which in less thoughtful hands can sound a bit stolid is here finely phrased and features excellent ensemble strengths.

It was Gendron who was given exclusive performance rights to Prokofiev’s Concerto in E minor for a period of three years, having first performed it in 1945 with the LPO under Walter Susskind. He plays it with expressive tautness and with a natural cantilena. There’s plenty of clarity of articulation in the second movement scherzo, though it’s not taken at a breakneck pace and he plays the legato passages with a full bow and greater intensity of vibrato speed. The cadenza in the finale is remarkably assured, but the whole performance, with Otto Matzerath conducting, is very fine. As an envoi he joins Sixten Ehrling for Fauré’s Elégie. The orchestral arrangement is inferior to the piano one, but one can at least enjoy the way Ehrling brings out the wind lines.

It was rather alarming to hear Gendron’s teaching described in Michael Waiblinger’s notes as ‘sadistic’. Other comments, too, make for less than pleasing reading but in terms of musicianship this is a conspicuously fine disc and very well produced.

Jonathan Woolf

A further review ...

Although this release is focussed predominantly on the French cellist Maurice Gendron (1920-1990), it will be of particular interest for the performance of the Brahms Double Concerto, in which the cellist collaborates with the great Belgium violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). Despite leaving us a substantial discography, Grumiaux never made a commercial recording of the Double Concerto. All I could find was a live recording with the RAI Milan Orchestra conducted by Pierre Monteux from 1962. There he is partnered by the cellist Antonio Janigro. This made a very brief appearance some years ago on a Stradivarius CD.

Listening to this Brahms Double, one regrets that the two artists didn’t make a commercial recording, as they are like-minded spirits. Hans Müller-Kray opens the work at a briskly pace, energized, majestic and forceful. I love the way he builds up the tension. The soloists project well and the engineers have struck an almost ideal balance between the two protagonists. Genron and Grumiaux display a well-matched mastery of technique and beauty of tone. In the slow movement, their voices intertwine with expressive tenderness and yearning. This is all topped off with a rhythmically charged finale, where excitement and brio are the order of the day. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto Op. 58 underwent a lengthy gestation from 1933, until its completion in 1938. It was written at the behest of Gregor Piatigorsky. The premičre took place in Moscow, on 26 November 1938, with Lev Berezovsky, a cellist from the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, and Alexander Melik-Pashaev conducting the State Symphony Orchestra. Piatigorsky gave the first US performance in Boston in 1940. Prokofiev was never happy with the finished product. Later, after hearing Rostropovich play it in 1947, he reworked the concerto, and a new work emerged, the Symphony-Concerto, Op. 125.

It’s a treat to have this rarely recorded Op. 58 Concerto. Janos Starker made a commercial recording of it in 1956 with the Philharmonia and Walter Süsskind. The recording has had several incarnations on LP, and in the minds of some has acquired ‘classic’ status. It was with Süsskind and the LSO that Gendron gave the first western performance in December 1945. Following this he was given exclusive rights to the Concerto for the next three years, and this helped galvanize his reputation and career. There is no doubting from this performance that he proves himself a worthy exponent of this technically challenging work, and he is well up to the task of tackling its complexities. In the third movement, which is a theme and variations, each variation is well characterized, with the virtuosic solo section, bravely fought. Intonation is immaculate throughout. Gendron is ably supported by the Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks, under Otto Matzerath, a name new to me.

It is with the same forces, this time under the baton of the better known Sixten Ehrling that the cellist gives us a ravishing Fauré Élégie, steeped in pathos and longing. The woodwinds are exceptionally warm and refined.

All three performances are radio studio recordings, with each making its debut on CD. Lynn Ludwig’s audio restorations are superb, allowing these works to be heard at their best. Informative booklet notes are included. Lovers of great cello playing shouldn’t miss this.

Stephen Greenbank