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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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L’Art de Maurice Gendron
Maurice Gendron (cello)
rec. 1946-1969
DECCA 4823849 [14 CDs: 960:11]

This well-deserved retrospective from Decca France is timed to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of French cellist Maurice Gendron (1920-1990). His origins were poor and he hailed from Nice. At the age of three he took up music, starting with the violin, but his mother then gave him a quarter-sized cello and he was drawn to it immediately. The rest is history. At ten he was introduced to Emanuel Feuermann, and at twelve he was admitted to the Nice Conservatory, winning first prize at fourteen. Then it was on to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Gérard Hekking. Whilst there he supported himself by selling newspapers. When war broke out he was declared unfit for active service due to malnourishment, so he became a member of the resistance. During these years he formed a cello-piano duo with Jean Françaix that lasted for 25 years. There are several examples of their collaborations in this collection. His international career began in 1945 when he gave the first Western European performance of the Prokofiev Cello Concerto, Op. 58, in London. Adjacent to concertizing he held several teaching posts at the Paris Conservatoire, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Menuhin School in Surrey, UK and in Saarbrücken. He also did some conducting, having studied with the Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg and the West German conductor Hermann Scherchen. He was an assistant conductor with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta in England in the early 1970s. His instrument was an 18th-century Stradivarius known as the ‘ex-Gendron’ cello which, for a time, was loaned to German cellist Maria Kliegel. His discography is biased towards standard repertoire with some twentieth century French music. He commanded an outstanding technique and expressive tone, with an impeccable sense of phrasing.

The Schola Cantorum, Paris provides an ideal, sympathetically warm acoustic for the cellist’s 1964 traversal of the Bach Cello Suites. Familiar to many, it has clocked up plenty of mileage over the years. Notable for his crystalline poise, elegance and distinguished virtuosity, allied to an immaculate intonation, Gendron’s cycle can confidently stand shoulder to shoulder with the best, including those by Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (earlier 1960 cycle). The preludes are never mechanical or dry, but evolve organically, whilst the sarabandes are stately and beautifully phrased. The gigues, which end the Suites, flow gracefully and there’s no hint of a scramble, with the bourrées of Suites 3 and 4 sprightly and spirited. The Suite no. 5 in C minor, my favourite, is imbued with melancholy and introspection.

Twenty-one years separates the two traversals of the Dvořák Concerto, the first being the earliest recording of the collection, set down in 1946 on 78s. The London Philharmonic is the orchestra in both, with Karl Rankl conducting the earlier of the two and Bernard Haitink in the later. The 78 version is in remarkably good sound and is a gripping performance, but it is the later version that sweeps the board. More understated than its predecessor, and less heart-on-sleeve, it is the inspirational conducting of Haitink that wins me over. The opening movement has grandeur and is admirably paced. Diaphanous woodwinds are pointed and the pungent brass makes its presence felt. The second movement is fervently intense, and the finale has rhythmic vitality. Silent Woods and the Rondo in G minor constitute welcome fillers, on which the cellist lavishes unfettered limpidness.

The set also boasts two Schumann Concertos, one in mono from 1953 with the Suisse Romande and Ernest Ansermet and a stereo re-make with the Vienna Symphony under Christoph von Dohnányi from 1962. Although this later airing is in much better sound, it has my preference for the more engaged and committed approach Gendron brings. There is more of a feeling of projection of the line. In the central Langsam he relishes the moment, eloquently shaping the melody. The Schumann Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73 would have benefited from a little more passion and involvement, qualities I find in Maisky and Argerich’s two recordings.

We have examples of both Haydn Concertos, each paired with Boccherini G.482. From 1960 Haydn’s Concerto No. 2 is paired with Boccherini’s original B flat version with Gendron being accompanied by Casals and the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux. Haydn’s Concerto No. 1 and Friedrich Grützmacher’s 1895 confection of the Boccherini, transposed into G major, dates from 1965, and is partnered by Raymond Leppard and the LSO. It’s good to have both versions of the Boccherini, although I prefer the original, which seems to be now coming back into fashion. The Grützmacher, a more romanticised version, was favoured by such players as Jacqueline du Pré. Gendron doesn’t have the intensity or abandon of du Pré, yet his readings are sophisticated and stylish. Outer movements are spirited and slow movements have a singing quality, with each phrase expressively contoured.

The Saint-Saëns Concerto No. 1 is given a robust account, the cellist maintaining control of the narrative throughout. The Lalo Concerto is less well-known yet it’s a work I’m very fond of. The dramatic opening movement is followed by a soulful Intermezzo, truly evocative in Gendron’s hands. The Spanish-flavoured finale rounds off the work and has exceptional appeal. The Fauré Elégie is from the same session as the concertos, all from 1969 with Roberto Benzi and the National Orchestra of Monte-Carlo Opera. It’s worth noting that in each case, the cello is too forwardly positioned in the aural landscape, with the orchestra sounding recessed. Of the two Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, the later stereo version with the Vienna Symphony under Christoph von Dohnányi is more satisfying sound-wise.

Gendron’s duo partnership with the French composer and pianist Jean Françaix dated back to the war years, and they produced some distinguished recordings. The two recordings of the Schubert Sonata for Arpeggione we have here were set down in 1952 and 1966. Though interpretively very similar, the earlier suffers from harsh, brittle sound and lacks the warmth and intimacy of the later traversal. The Debussy Sonata is given a penetrating and idiomatic performance, and is vested with myriad tonal colours. A 1967 filmed performance of the Sonata can be viewed on Youtube with the pianist Christian Ivaldi. In the Fauré Sonata, Gendron conveys the sombre, melancholic complexion of the music, an attribute also found in the Messiaen. We are also treated to three sets of variations by Beethoven, dispatched with plenty of personality; they are as good as any I’ve heard. The composer Françaix is represented by five miniatures, four having been arranged by the cellist. I don’t find them particularly attractive or inspiring.

I’m pleased that we have the six Cello Sonatas by Antonio Vivaldi, as I’ve never heard them before and they certainly make an engaging diversion. Gendron is joined by Hans Lang on the cello and Marikye Smit Sibinga on the harpsichord. The first thing to be said is that all three instrumentalists blend well and inject plenty of vim and vigour into their playing. Faster movements are rhythmically buoyant and crisply articulated, and slow movements are eloquently nuanced.

In the mid-fifties Gendron formed a piano trio with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin which lasted for 25 years. The fruits of their collaborations are included here. Aside from chamber music I must say, in passing, that the three performed the Beethoven Triple Concerto at the 1964 Bath Festival with the London Symphony Orchestra under Istvan Kertesz, captured on a BBC Legends release (BBCL42522) – well worth seeking out. The Brahms and Tchaikovsky Trios are particularly compelling in terms of sound quality and instrumental balance. Each is an inspired reading, and the rapport between all three players is evident in every note they play. The Tchaikovsky is expansive, technically accomplished, virile and truly conveys the work’s sweeping emotional range. The two Schubert Trios have a striking directness, with the players perfectly attuned to the composer’s sound-world and displaying their Schubertian credentials to the full. They bring freshness, spontaneity and imagination to the trios, and who cannot fail to be won over by the bewitching charm of the single movement Notturno. Regrettably, the two Beethoven Trios are not a success. From December 1964 and taped at Studio 1 Abbey Road, the piano sound is hard-edged and strident, and the general ambience of the two performances lacks warmth. There’s no elation or sense of wonder in these uninspired renditions.

Menuhin and ‘friends’ come together for the two Brahms Sextets. For the recording, the violinist mustered some of the ‘regulars’ of the Bath Festival with Gendron pairing up with Derek Simpson. The mix works well, and it was these recordings that first introduced me to the rich and lyrical scores. There’s a tangible joy of music-making in these urbane readings and, for me, they’ve never been bettered.

The final CD of the set contains some delicious shorter recital pieces, with Gendron sympathetically partnered by Peter Gallion, a name new to me. These encores were recorded in 1960 and the audio quality is impressive. David Popper’s Serenade, Op.54, No.2 is notable for its whimsical character, instinctive rubato and some thrilling bowing, with Gallion responding to every nuance and inflection. In the Handel Largo which follows, the cellist draws a rich full-bodied sonority from his cello. The ubiquitous Swan make a predictable appearance, seductive and beguiling, and in the Rimsky-Korsakov and Fitzenhagen pieces we hear some sparkling fingerwork. The cellist captures a real Iberian flavour in the de Falla and Granados, and a Viennese charm permeates the Kreisler Liebesleid.

Attractively packaged, the booklet contains a cache of photographs of the cellist with various colleagues. Each of the CD card sleeves is likewise adorned. In an age when box sets of back catalogue are arriving thick and fast, this has to be one of the most attractive and pleasing I’ve come across. For cello mavens this is required listening.

Stephen Greenbank

NOTE (after email from Mark Todd)
The comment on the Bochherini/Grützmacher "confection" in relation to Gendron's connection to it is incorrect.  Gendron at this stage would have had nothing to do with the Grützmacher concoction, which consisted of two movements of one concerto, with various changes, and the central movement of another.  When he recorded the performances with Casals the two of them went to considerable trouble to ensure that an edition faithful to Boccherini's original of the outer movement was used, obviously with the proper central movement.  When, a few years later, Gendron came to record the earlier Haydn Concerto with Leppard, it was decided to couple it with the other Boccherini concerto which has been used for the slow movement of the old Grützmacher to set the matter straight, again with the proper outer movements.   I believe the edition used was made for this recording, which I think I am right in saying was the first recording of the work.  At no stage was there any question of Gendron performing the old concoction, and in fact one of the aims in issuing the two performances was to set the record straight and do justice to Boccherini at last.

The two Boccherini concertos in the box are quite distinct, apart from the fact that Grützmacher had bowdlerized them both for his concoction, and neither edition used has any hint of the Grützmacher.  This should be clear from the booklet with the box, and from the original Gramophone reviews from the 1960s.  What has been published in this review is incorrect and does not do justice  to the considerable efforts of Gendron, Casals and Leppard in this regard.

Complete track-listing
 
CD 1 [74:19]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D.821
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.33
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Jean Françaix (piano) (Schubert) 1952
London Philharmonic/Karl Rankl (Dvorák) 1946
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Tchaikovsky) 1953

CD 2 [68:35]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129
Fantasiestücke, Op.73
3 Romances, Op.94
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129*
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Jean Françaix (piano) (Op. 73 and 94) 1952
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Op. 129) 1953
Vienna Symphony/Christoph von Dohnányi (Op. 129)* 1962

CD 3 [75:26]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto in D,H.VIIb No.2
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1713-1805)
Cello Concerto in B flat
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.33
Pezzo capriccioso for cello and orchestra, Op.62
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Pablo Casals 1960
Vienna Symphony/Christoph von Dohnányi (Tchaikovsky) 1962

CD 4 [72:55]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite for Cello Solo No.1 in G, BWV 1007
Suite for Cello Solo No.4 in E flat, BWV 1010
Suite for Cello Solo No.6 in D, BWV 1012

CD 5 [78:44]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Suite for Cello Solo No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Suite for Cello Solo No.3 in C, BWV 1009
Suite for Cello Solo No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
12 Variations on "See the conquering hero comes" for Cello and Piano, WoO 45*
Maurice Gendron (cello) 1964, 1966*
Jean Françaix (piano)*

CD 6 [78:07]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
7 Variations on "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen", for Cello and Piano, WoO 46
12 Variations on "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" for Cello and Piano, Op. 66
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata for cello and Continuo in B flat, RV.47
Sonata for Cello and Continuo in F major, R.41
Sonata for Cello and Continuo in A minor, R.43
Sonata for Cello and Continuo in B flat, R.45
Sonata for Cello and Continuo in E minor, R.40
Sonata for Cello and Continuo in B flat, R.46
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Jean Françaix (piano) (Beethoven) 1966
Hans Lang (cello) (Vivaldi)
Marikye Smit Sibinga (harpsichord) (Vivaldi) 1967

CD 7 [77:02]
Franz Peter SCHUBERT
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D.821*
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Berceuse
Rondino staccato - arr. Maurice Gendron
Nocturne - arr. Maurice Gendron
Mouvement perpétuel
Sérénade - arr. Maurice Gendron
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 in D minor, Op.117
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Quatuor pour la fin du temps
5. Louange ŕ l'Eternité de Jésus
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Jean Françaix (piano) 1964, 1966*

CD 8 [77:21]
Franz Joseph HAYDN
Cello Concerto in C, H.VIIb, No.1
Antonin DVOŘÁK
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Rondo in G minor, Op.94
Silent Woods, Op.68/5
Maurice Gendron (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Raymond Leppard (Haydn) 1965
London Philharmonic/Bernard Haitink (Dvorák) 1967

CD 9 [70:19]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1713-1805)
Cello Concerto in G
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33
Gabriel FAURÉ
Elégie, Op.24
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor
Maurice Gendron (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Raymond Leppard (Boccherini) 1965
National Orchestra of Monte-Carlo Opera/Roberto Benzi, 1969

CD 10 [71:48]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio No.5 In D, Op.70 No.1 - "Geistertrio"
Franz SCHUBERT
Piano Trio No.1 in B flat, Op.99 D.898
Sonatensatz in B Flat Major D.28
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Hephzibah Menuhin (piano)

CD 11 [78:17]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio No.6 in E flat, Op.70 No.2
Franz SCHUBERT
Piano Trio No.2 in E flat, Op.100 D.929*
Notturno in E flat major D.897*
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Hephzibah Menuhin (piano)
1964, 1968*

CD 12 [74:48]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Sextet No.1 in B flat, Op.18*
String Sextet No.2 in G, Op.36
Maurice Gendron, Derek Simpson (cello)
Yehudi Menuhin, Robert Masters (violin)
Cecil Aronowitz (viola) 1963, 1964*

CD 13 [75:16]
Johannes BRAHMS
Piano Trio No.2 in C, Op.87
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.50*
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Hephzibah Menuhin (piano)
1967, 1969*

CD 14 [55:16]
David POPPER (1843-1913)
Serenade, Op.54, No.2
George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Serse / Act 1: Ombra mai fu (Largo)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS
Le Carnaval des Animaux: Le Cygne
Robert SCHUMANN
Kinderszenen, Op.15: 7. Träumerei
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Tale of Tsar Saltan: The Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Niccolň PAGANINI (1782–1840)
Introduction and Variations on "Dal tuo stellato" from Rossini's Opera "Mosč"
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitare, Op.45, No.2
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Liebesleid
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
La vida breve / Act 2: Spanish Dance No.1
Johann Sebastian BACH
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Introduction and Polonaise, Op.3
Wilhelm FITZENHAGEN (1848-1890)
Moto perpetuo
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Spanish Dance Op.37, No.5 - "Andaluza" - arr. Maurice Gendron
Antonin DVOŘÁK
Humoresque in G Flat Major, Op.101
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Peter Gallion (piano) 1960

 

 




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