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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61 [42:43]
Henry Merckel (violin)
Lille Radio Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Soret
rec. live, 26 January 1953, radio broadcast, Lille, France

This live radio broadcast is a welcome addition to the Merckel discography, as one of the stalwarts of the violin repertoire. In 1941 the violinist made a commercial recording of the Beethoven Concerto for the French arm of HMV with the Lamoureux Orchestra under Eugène Bigot. I've never heard it to compare and, as far as I can gather, it has not been issued on CD, or on LP for that matter. A Tokyo-based firm, calling themselves, Direct Transfer CDR, are offering custom-made copies for 1,500 JPY.

Henry Merckel (1897-1969) fulfilled the dual role of an orchestral concertmaster and a soloist. For three decades he lead several French orchestras.  He represented the Franco-Belgian School of violin playing, with its emphasis on tonal beauty, refinement and good taste. Yet he lacked the individuality of Jacques Thibaud and Zino Francescatti, two of his French contemporaries, and his profile has fallen somewhat below the radar. As for the conductor Maurice Soret, I was unable to gain any biographical information other than that he had associations with this orchestra around the 1950s.
I'm very fond of Merckel's playing, but I feel that this live airing doesn't show him at his best. He employs a relentlessly fast vibrato, which is unvaried throughout. At times it borders on the tremulous. It's also a touch cloying. Having said that, his technique, even at this stage in his career, was formidable by any standards. His intonation is also spot-on for most of the time. He uses cadenzas that I've never heard before, but they're impressively executed and, most importantly, idiomatic. The performance is let down by Soret, whose direction lacks inspiration, with the orchestral part lifeless and pedestrian. Ensemble isn't without its faults either. The finale, especially, sounds rather mechanical and routine, but it doesn’t prevent the audience from reacting positively with enthusiastic applause.
Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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