Yehudi Menuhin – The Long Lost Gstaad Tapes
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No.2 in D minor BWV1004; Partita in E major, BWV1006
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto for three violins and strings, RV551
Concerto for two violins, cello obbligato and strings, RV510
Yehudi Menuhin (violin); Alberto Lysy (violin): Robert Masters (violin)
Camerata Lysy/Peter Norris
rec. August 1976
Picture Format 4:3, Sound Format Stereo, Languages, English with German, French and Italian subtitles, Code 0 PAL
Directed by Gianni Paggi
TUDOR DVD 3339 [86:00]
‘Lost’ deserves an introductory sentence or two. The filmed recordings in this 86-minute DVD were made in the small and beautiful Mauritius church at Saanen-Gstaad in Switzerland over a period of a week in August 1976. There is apparently no evidence that they were ever broadcast and are largely unedited, though restored. Thus it is that we can hear and see Menuhin at 60 playing conventional church concerts but also without an audience - the latter is quite unusual in his filmography – in a release that celebrates the centenary of his birth.
Each item is introduced by Menuhin to the viewer. He wears formal tie and tails and is alone in a room, outlining briefly the piece to be played or introducing fellow performers. Then we cut to the performance in question. The footage itself has a kind of gauzy patina to it, rather like an Old Master before restoration. It has a rather charming effect and though one is not denied perspective – long shots, some slightly erratic panning, and close up – of Menuhin’s fingerboard dexterity, it’s certainly not a pin-point view of either mechanics or musician.
This rather painterly perspective vests the music with an intimacy, a feeling enhanced when the camera very occasionally picks out some of the artworks on the church walls in passing shots. The two works played without an audience are the Partitas, in D minor and E major, and they bookend the programme. His playing is raptly contemplative and warmly expressive in his better late fashion. In the case of his Bach I don’t find the post-war traversals of the sonatas and partitas to be interpretatively at all inferior to his youthful teenage 78s. Some abrasive chording apart, his playing is largely impressive – though the church acoustic inevitably encourages a degree of spread to the sound. In the Violin Concerto the conductor is an old colleague of Menuhin’s, Peter Norris, who died in 2011. He encourages the Camerata Lysy to give valuable support to Menuhin, who again plays convincingly, with little sign of bowing concerns. One oddity of the concerto performances is that there is no applause. Instead the audience gets slowly to its feet and the performers leave the stage in a rather indeterminate, slightly ramshackle kind of way.
Interspersed between the works are very brief shots of the valley or of the chamber orchestra tuning up outside the church quite merrily. The Vivaldi three fiddle concerto pairs Menuhin with Alberto Lysy and Robert Masters, a right-hand-man to Menuhin in England. This friendly concerto – Masters takes the all-pizzicato role in the second movement – allows one to note Menuhin’s freer body movements than his more restrained colleagues. The orchestral sound tends to be somewhat ill-defined. It’s just Menuhin and Lysy in the two-violin Vivaldi Concerto where the cello obbligato is taken by the German cellist Wolfgang Meyhorn. Some of the panning from violinist to violinist is a bit touch and go but the static shots, though obviously still gauzy, are much better.
There are no clues from box or booklet as to any of the musicians playing in these performances. For that you’ll need to read the credits at the end of the DVD. It’s a small point, but I think it would have been helpful had they been included in the documentation which otherwise consists of a brief but affectionate tribute from Menuhin’s son, Gerard.
It’s certainly good that this long-lost batch of filmed performances has resurfaced at last. The nature of the film’s lack of visual definition is a potential drawback but the music-making itself is both affectionate and elevated.