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Josef Hassid (violin) - Complete Recordings
Ginette Neveu (violin)
rec. 1940-1948
OPUS KURA OPK2110 [65:21]

This is an apposite pairing of two violinists who were child prodigies. Each studied with the Hungarian violinist and pedagogue Carl Flesch, and each met an untimely death in tragic circumstances. Ginette Neveu was killed, together with her brother Jean, in a plane crash in the Azores on 27 October 1949 at the age of only thirty. The Polish-born Josef Hassid, after launching a career, began to suffer from schizophrenia around the age of twenty. In 1937, whilst studying with Flesch, he had fallen in love with a young female student. The relationship was abruptly ended by her parents who cited religious differences. Whether this triggered his psychiatric illness we’ll never know. His condition deteriorated, and from 1941 he spent the rest of his life in hospital. A botched lobotomy operation, resulting in meningitis, ended his life on 7 November 1950 at the age of only twenty-six. What we have here is his complete recorded legacy – nine genre pieces set down over three sessions in 1940 with Gerald Moore. Neveu and Hassid have been paired before on a Testament CD (SBT 1010), but with Neveu in different repertory. Testament also included a test pressing of the Elgar piece with Ivor Newton at the piano from January 1939.

The Chausson Poème and Debussy Sonata convey something of the enormity of Neveu’s extraordinary talent, not only her technical command, but also her expressive range and extensive tonal palette. Neither were issued as 78s, but appeared for the first time as LPs in 1957. These have been used as source material by Opus Kura, and they adequately convey the radiance of the violinist’s tone and the qualities I’ve outlined above. There’s a live performance of the Chausson from 2 January 1949 with the Philharmonic–Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch on the Music and Arts label (CD-837). It’s in decent sound and has slightly more spontaneity and passion, Neveu no doubt inspired by the live event. The brother and sister join forces for the Debussy Sonata, which is imbued with poetic insights and benefits from the violinist’s myriad shadings and highly personalized portamenti and position changes. The same magical qualities can be found in their recordings of the two short pieces by Ravel and Scarlatescu. These studio recordings have all been previously issued and have appeared in various incarnations.

Gerald Moore, who accompanies Hassid on these captivating recordings, declared that ‘with the possible exception of Menuhin, (he) is the most incandescent talent I have ever heard’. There is no doubt that he was a tremendously gifted player and was greatly admired by Thibaud, Huberman, Szigeti and Kreisler, who said of him: ‘A Heifetz comes around every 100 years but a Hassid once every 200.’ It would be difficult to choose a favourite from these recorded gems, but if I was put on the spot it would have to be Elgar’s La Capricieuse. The up-bow staccatos have astonishing bite and crispness and are every bit as fine as those by Heifetz, with the central lyrical section subtly nuanced. The test pressing (not included) doesn’t quite match the spontaneity and subtlety of the later recording, but is remarkable for its technical polish and musicality. Kreisler’s Caprice Viennois is another outstanding morsel. It is elegant, suave and sensual, with the double-stop passages vibrant and opulent, achieved by an intensely flexible vibrato. Seductive slides capture the Viennese charm, yet the interpretation never degenerates into schmaltz. With Zapateado, one of two Spanish dances by Sarasate, you’re in for a treat. The rhythmic vitality, pure harmonics and sparking left-hand pizzicatos have never been bettered. His sumptuous tone, radiating an inner warmth, is ideally suited to Tchaikovsky’s Mélodie and Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs. With his outstanding technical command, unique timbre, expressive imagination and formidable musicianship, one can only speculate as to what he could have achieved had he lived longer.

The excellent transfers bring these appealing performances to life and will be greatly appreciated by violin mavens. Notes are in Japanese and English. Although I've been familiar with them for many years, the Hassid recordings continue to be a revelation each time I encounter them.

Stephen Greenbank
Complete track-listing
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, for violin and piano, op.25 [15:38]
Ginette Neveu (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Issay Dobrowen (rec.1946)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor [12:11]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de habañera [3:11]
Ioan SCARLATESCU (1872-1922)
Bagatelle [3:28]
Ginette Neveu (violin) and Jean Neveu (piano) (rec. 1948)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Humoresque arr. Kreisler [3:20]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Mélodie [3:05]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Playera [3:59]
Zapateado [3:23]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Meditation from Thaïs [3:53]
Joseph ACHRON (1886-1943)
Hebrew Melody, Op.33 [4:32]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1982)
Caprice Viennois [3:37]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
La Capricieuse, Op. 17 (1891) [3:19]
Josef Hassid (violin) and Gerald Moore (piano) (rec. 1940)



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