Georges ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.25 [24:13]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor Op.108 [20:53]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor Op.121 [27:45]
Serge Blanc (violin)
Georges Enescu (piano)
rec. concert broadcast, 1952, Salle Gaveau, Paris

Despite the sonic limitations of this release, culled from some well-worn acetates, it constitutes an aural document of some historical significance. The three sonatas derive from a broadcast dating from 1952. I’ve only ever encountered the playing of Serge Blanc once before, in an excellent recording, again issued by Forgotten Records, of music by the unsung French composer Claude Duboscq (1897-1938). I had the pleasure of reviewing that disc last year. The Concert intime for piano, violin and cello of 1919 features Blanc in a 1961 recording.

The French violinist Serge Blanc (1929-2013) studied under Jules Boucherit from the age of ten at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. Three years later he won First Prize. Born of Jewish parents, he was hidden by Boucherit during the years of Nazi occupation. In 1949, he won the Grand Prix International Marguerite Long - Jacques Thibaud, and went on to meet Georges Enesco and Nadia Boulanger, attending her classes in Paris. His relationship with her continued until her death in 1979. In the early fifties he spent some time in the States. After he returned to France, he became music director of the Orchestre National de Radio France in 1973 and also held a position with the Opera Orchestra of Paris. He devoted much of his time to teaching and was a professor at the École Normale de Musique de Paris and Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris.

Georges Enescu was the all-round musician par excellence. Composer, violinist, teacher, conductor and pianist, his musical gifts seemed to excel in every field. Yehudi Menuhin, Enescu’s most famous pupil, said of his teacher that he was ‘the greatest musician and the most formative influence’ he had ever met. In this Paris recital he wears his piano hat, and I’m amazed how competent a pianist he was, negotiating these technically demanding scores with consummate skill and ease.

Dans le caractère populaire roumain is the title of Enescu’s third and best known sonata. I enjoyed this performance very much. It is both stylized and idiomatic, hardly surprising with the composer himself engaged in proceedings. Blanc has a varied palette of colour to his sound, which is a large plus in imitating the folk-orientated timbres of the music. There’s also intensity in good measure. The Brahms Sonata I like the least of the performances here. It’s the slow movement that lets it down, sounding bland and uninvolved, though the impassioned and virtuosic finale is a mitigating factor. The heroic grandeur and exuberance of the outer movements of the Schumann Sonata are compelling. The second movement is rhythmically buoyant, with the third movement’s pizzicatos ringing out warmly in a set of variations on a theme reminiscent of a Bach chorale I cry to thee in deepest need.

Alain Deguernel has done a marvellous job with this less than perfect source material and, though the piano sounds recessed throughout, Blanc’s rich warm tone can be appreciated through the acetate swish. Audience presence is confirmed by the enthusiastic applause registered at the end of each work, and the odd cough every now and then. Unlike many of their releases, this one has notes, in French only, written by the violinist Alexis Galpérine. I hope that one day Forgotten Records will issue the Schubert duos for violin and piano that Blanc recorded with Monique Mercier.
Stephen Greenbank