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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 (1878) [33:56]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Le bœuf sur le toit (1919): Cinema-Fantasie: (cadenza by Arthur Honegger) [11:31]*
René Benedetti (violin)
Jacqueline Dussol (piano)*
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française / Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht
rec. live, Paris, 13 February 1958 (Brahms), 12 May 1961 (Milhaud)

Clearly there are a number of surviving archive broadcasts made by great though internationally less well-known exemplars of the French School of violin playing. Meloclassic has brought a raft to the fore but so has Forgotten Records. Their retrieval of Henry Merckel’s performances is not to be overlooked and here we have a disc devoted to René Benedetti, whose scintillating wartime Paganini First Concerto has been restored by Meloclassic (see review).

Benedetti (1901-75) was a tremendous soloist and chamber musician, for decades a prominent player on French concert platforms. The Brahms Concerto with Inghelbrecht conducting was taped in Paris in February 1958. In his review of this disc my colleague Stephen Greenbank has alluded to pitch discrepancies which may have added to the impression of haste in the performance. It’s certainly fast, and at 34 minutes on a par with Heifetz’s recording with Reiner – his earlier traversal with Koussevitzky was rather more circumspect at around 37. This restless, terse quality is apparent from the start but it does give a strong sense of direction to the music-making. Performances of this concerto, like the Beethoven, can become flabby when taken slowly. Some of Benedetti’s passagework is a little awkward-sounding but his trill, though not of electric velocity, is still tight. The first movement cadenza is punchily delivered, portamenti are audible and though the fundamental pulse is undeniably fast the music has time to breathe. The balancing of the oboe is not ideal in the central movement but Benedetti’s dovetailing throughout with the winds is excellent. One is tempted to note that his excellence as a chamber collaborator informs matters of give and take. There are a few inexactitudes in the finale but otherwise it gets a bracing if not wholly Hungarian reading. But it certainly rouses the audience to strong applause.

The coupling is not another concerto but rather Darius Milhaud’s Cinema-Fantaisie after Le Boeuf sur le toit with its vigorous cadenza, splendidly negotiated here, penned by Honegger. It was taped in May 1961 with the collaboration of pianist Jacqueline Dussol. This was a work Benedetti had recorded for French HMV on 78s three decades earlier with Jean Wiener, of ‘Wiener and Doucet’ piano duet fame. The idiom was meat and drink to Wiener and on 78s Benedetti’s tone is full of piquant intensity that’s not quite replicated in the 1961 performance. Nevertheless, Dussol acquits herself excellently, the recorded sound is much better, naturally, in 1961 and I’m not aware that the 78 set has ever been transferred to LP or CD.

Unusually for FR there is a three-page biographical note about the violinist, in French only, by Alexis Galpérine. Whatever imperfections may exist in this disc, Benedetti is always worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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