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

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 [40:37]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 [38:20]
Jacob Krachmalnick (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Charles Munch
rec. live, 15 October 1960 (Op. 77), 23 April 1960 (Op. 73)

Despite having my avid interest in violinists, especially historical and less well-known ones, Forgotten Records have certainly caught me on the hop this time with the two artists featured here. I have heard of neither of them before. I am pleased that they are both performing the Brahms Violin Concerto, as it gives me the opportunity to make some sort of comparison. Another common denominator is that these are both live radio recordings, set down roughly around the same time. Applause has been retained in both instances.

So what of the two violinists? René Benedetti (1901-1975) was a pupil of Edouard Nadaud at the Paris Conservatoire. He, in turn, taught Christian Ferras, Emmanuel Krivine and Jean-Jacques Kantorow. In 1941 he helped form an ensemble called the 'B.B.N. Trio' with pianist Joseph Benvenuti and André Navarra. Jacob Krachmalnick (1922-2001) was born in Russia, but spent most of his life in the United States. He studied under Efrem Zimbalist at the Curtis Institute. For a while, during the war, he played in the Army Air Force Glenn Miller Band. At 22 he was appointed assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, and later held the post as concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. This was followed by a stint as concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam under Eduard van Beinum.

I have to say from the outset that the Benedetti version of the Brahms Concerto cannot be recommended. It is frenetically paced and gives the overall impression throughout of being driven. That is not to deny that it is a technically accomplished performance. The violinist's intonation is spot on, but the performance sounds routine and lacks that magic spark. Jacob Krachmalnik, on the other hand, is wonderful. There is a real meeting of minds between soloist and conductor and an overall sense of shared purpose. Warmth and lyricism are compelling features. The slow movement is eloquent and exquisitely phrased, and the finale is energetic and rhythmically buoyant, without sounding rushed. Both violinists employ the Joachim cadenza. Some indication of the sense of tempo miscalculation of the Benedetti version can be ascertained from the overall timings of the two performances: Benedetti 33:56; Krachmalnik 40:37.

Milhaud's Le bœuf sur le toit (Cinema-Fantasie), more familiar in its orchestral form, is here heard in an arrangement for violin and piano. It is a spicy extravaganza, calling for supreme virtuosity, drawing on an array of violinistic devices such as left-hand pizzicatos, harmonics, double stops, you name it. At its centre is a spectacular cadenza by the composer's contemporary Arthur Honneger. It makes for an interesting curiosity. Just over thirty years earlier, Benedetti had made a studio recording of the piece for Columbia in June 1928, partnered by Jean Weiner.

Munch delivers a nicely paced recording of Brahms's sunny Second Symphony. Everything sounds fresh and newly composed. The Adagio flows freely and isn't too weighty as some performances I have heard. The Allegretto grazioso is genial and charming, and the triumphant finale is thrilling.

All the performances are sonically respectable, but I did notice that the Benedetti performance of the Brahms Concerto is pitched just fractionally shy of a semitone high. Maybe this has some bearing on the performance sounding fast. I also noticed that orchestral ensemble in this performance cannot be faulted, which further reinforces my belief that some of the recording’s problems are due to a pitch irregularity. This recording comes with some notes, in French, by Alexis Galpérine. The other has no accompanying documentation. Of the two concerto performances, my preference is for the less frenetic Krachmalnick reading, but I do prefer the Milhaud as a pairing, for its rarity value.

Stephen Greenbank