L’Art de Maurice Gendron
Maurice Gendron (cello)
rec. 1946-1969
DECCA 4823849 [14 CDs: ca 16 hrs]

French Decca’s chunky 14-CD box devoted to the art of Maurice Gendron will be warmly welcomed by his many admirers, notwithstanding the fact that much of the contents can be found elsewhere.

The 78rpm set of the Dvořák Concerto with Karl Rankl occupies the first disc, its high level thistly Decca hiss firmly intact. This is a youthful take, Rankl – then enjoying prestige in Britain – engineering some dramatic dynamics for his soloist. In the finale Gendron, greatly admired by Casals, takes the older man’s pre-war tempo in his recording with Szell, though he is not as rapier-like as Casals in articulation. Good piping LPO winds accompany the journey. When Gendron re-recorded the work in 1967 with Haitink, and again with the LPO, he took a minute longer in the slow movement and the tonal blend of the orchestra is significantly more sophisticated than in its ebullient youth.

The excellent duo Gendron formed with Jean Françaix can be enjoyed here. The Schubert Arpeggione is similarly encountered twice, in 1952 and 1966. On the earlier occasion Decca’s West Hampstead studios contrived to render Françaix’s sound fortepiano-like and clattery. The later recording, conceptually very similar, is strongly to be preferred for this reason alone. Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations is yet another piece to which he returned over the years. His first thoughts with Ansermet in 1953 are superior to the more indulgent and slightly more pedestrian recording with Christoph von Dohnányi in Vienna in 1962.

The same applies in the case of the Schumann Concerto – incisive with Ansermet, more leisurely with Dohnányi. Though his rubati are more elastic in Vienna and there’s tremendous subtlety in his phraseology, he is placed front and centre in the balance. The old mono balance for Ansermet is actually the more natural sounding. Both these performances are contained in disc 2, a fiesta of Schumann which also contains the Fantasiestücke, Op.73 and Trois Romances with Françaix. There’s a fine performance of the Haydn Concerto No.2 with the cellist’s own cadenzas, a performance presided over by Casals himself, and he also directs Boccherini’s Concerto G.482, for which Gendron had consulted the score in the Dresden State Library. Gendron’s tonal beauty in the slow movement is luminous, his aerial grace in the finale bewitching. With Robero Benzi he is songful in the Lalo Concerto.

France was privileged to have produced some of the greatest Bach cello exponents of the time; Navarra, Tortelier and Fournier were three of the world’s leading exponents of the Bach Suites - and Gendron stands alongside them. Discs 4 and 5 are devoted to the cycle he recorded. He is less pugnacious than Navarra, less suavely elegant than Fournier but on a par with both, finding rich and dark colours to convey the music, always retaining a propulsive pulse, remaining both characterful and generously warm.

The set of Vivaldi’s sonatas for cello and continuo housed in disc 6 may be somewhat less familiar Gendron fare. He plays the fast movements with vitality and tonal variety whilst the slow movements never drag. The high point – if such can be selected – of this disc is possibly the slow movement of Sonata No.3, RV43 where his elegant cantilena is at its most persuasive. Marikje Smit Sibinga’s harpsichord is well balanced, as indeed is the cello continuo of Hans Lang. A sequence of variations – Mozart, Beethoven, hardly small beer – is also present and correct.

He characterises the Debussy Sonata very interestingly, responding to its moments of latent melancholia especially vividly. It’s established that in later years Gendron knew the classic pre-war recording made of this work by Maurice Maréchal and Robert Casadesus though he makes no attempt to replicate Maréchal’s tight and taut tempo and rapid thematic conjunctions. He and Françaix are quite slow in this central movement but much better in the finale. Gendron arranged the majority of the light Françaix pieces played in this seventh disc. He and Françaix are in truly frolicsome form for the Rondino staccato. The bigger challenges of Fauré’s First Sonata are securely met, though he favours relaxed – but by no means inert – tempi, meaning that it’s tricky to generate cumulative energy.

Discs 10 to 13 focus on the trio formed with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin. The Tchaikovsky Trio and Brahms’ Op.87 occupy disc 13 and attest to the collaborative rapport between the three musicians. They also recorded two trios each by Beethoven and Schubert, readings of humanity and sensitivity though it’s evident that there is sometimes tonal incongruity between the string players. In the Ghost Trio, where Menuhin often seemed uncomfortable – there is a live BBC recording where he sounds even more uncomfortable than here – good tone and intonation very occasionally take a back seat. The Brahms sextets are more comprehensively successful with Robert Masters, Cecil Aronowitz, Ernst Wallfisch and Derek Simpson drafted in to craft performances of expressive warmth and communicative truthfulness.

There is a final disc which presents a March 1960 recording in Amsterdam where Gendron is accompanied by Peter Gallion in a delightful sequence of favourites. They’re all played with unfailing dignity and nobility of expression. There’s charm in his Handel ‘Largo’, virtuosity a-plenty in Popper and Rimsky, regal command in the stratospheric elements of the Paganini and a vibrant Falla. A number of these pieces are heard in Gendron’s own arrangements.

There are far more splendid things here than a review of this kind can draw attention to.

There is a well-illustrated booklet with succinct details of Gendron’s times and career. Fine transfers complete an excellent undertaking.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)

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
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)
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 à 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"
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
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
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)
Le Carnaval des Animaux: Le Cygne
Kinderszenen, Op.15: 7. Träumerei
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Tale of Tsar Saltan: The Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782–1840)
Introduction and Variations on "Dal tuo stellato" from Rossini's Opera "Mosè"
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitare, Op.45, No.2
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
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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