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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Devy Erlih (violin)
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)

Pastorale in A major, B.A16, Op.1 No.13 [8:36]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata for Solo Violin No.1 in G major, BWV1001 [18:24]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30 No.2 [24:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major [16:22]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen, Op.20 [7:43]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
La vida breve: Danse espagnole No.1 arr. Fritz Kreisler [3:11]
Maurice Bureau (piano)
rec. live, 15 December 1952, Salle Gaveau, Paris
MELOCLASSIC MC2024 [78:59]

Tragically, on the morning of 7 February 2012, the violinist Devy Erlih was fatally hit by a reversing lorry on his way to the École normale de musique, Paris, where he was still teaching; he was 83. His life began in the very same city in 1928. He was the son of Moldovan-Jewish immigrants, and he seems to have inherited his musical gifts from his father, who was a folk musician, playing cimbalom and pan pipes and running a cafe orchestra. Young Devi soon took to the stage and became the star attraction, learning and playing the violin by ear. His talent acknowledged, he eventually went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jules Boucherit, from whose fertile stable came Ginette Neveu, Henri Temianka and Michèle Auclair. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War but when they resumed he pocketed the Conservatoire’s Première Prix, and an international career beckoned. In 1955 he won the Long-Thibaud Competition. His travels took him around Europe, to the United States and as far afield as Japan.

From early on, he gravitated towards contemporary music including Bartók, Stravinsky and Prokofiev. He premiered concertos by Darius Milhaud, Bruno Maderna, Henri Sauguet and Henri Tomasi and was an enthusiastic champion of the music of André Jolivet, whose Violin Concerto and Suite rhapsodique he premiered in 1972. He was later to marry Jolivet’s daughter, Christine.

Here we have a live concert which the violinist gave with the pianist Maurice Bureau at the Salle Gaveau, Paris on 15 December 1952. Meloclassic states that this is a first CD release. The Bach and Beethoven Sonatas form the main bulk of the recital and, for me, it is the former which constitutes the highlight of the disc. Erlih’s Bach is earthy and roughly hewn, calling to mind the young Menuhin, or perhaps more pertinently Georges Enescu, who was a formative influence on the young violinist. This is communicative playing, with an instinctive feel for the music, underpinned by rhythmic integrity. The opening Adagio has an improvisatory feel, countered with an innate sense of direction. The polyphonic clarity of the Fuga adds real distinction. Erlih draws a rich, full-blooded sound from his fiddle, with intonation spot-on. The violinist recorded the complete Sonatas and Partitas on LP for the French Adès label, but I wasn’t able to ascertain the date. I have seen a two-separate CD incarnation on Amazon at an exorbitant price- maybe something for a lottery win.

The Beethoven is a performance of unshowy virtuosity, where both violinist and pianist effectively judge the ebb and flow of the music. The slow movement won me over immediately with its heartfelt lyricism. The Ravel Sonata sees Erlih comfortably ensconced in his comfort zone. It’s an idiomatic performance awash with a palette of tonal allure. The performance exploits the full gamut of moods and contrasts from the quirky lyricism of the first movement, to the exotic blues movement and the Perpetuum mobile of the Finale, with its strongly articulated pizzicatos. The Sarasate and de Falla/Kreisler pieces are the perfect foil to Erlih’s supreme technical command.

The recital is in respectable sound for its age and provenance. I couldn’t detect much in the way of audience noise apart from the odd cough, but nothing to write home about. Applause has been edited out, apart from 0.5 of a second starting on the last chord of Zigeunerweisen, a sure sign of the audience’s eager excitement. Excellent booklet notes give a potted biography of the violinist, in English only. This release gets my enthusiastic endorsement.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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