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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op.64 [28:02]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Grand Duo for Violin and Piano in A Major, D574 [22:21]
Violin Sonatina in A minor, Op. post.137 No.2, D385 [20:36]
Franco Gulli (violin)
Orchestra of the Fenice Theatre Venice/Ettore Gracis
Enrica Cavallo (piano)
rec. 1956 (Schubert), 1959 (Mendelssohn)

It's something of a coincidence that I received this CD for review, not long after I had acquired a recording by Franco Gulli on the Koch label (3-1622-2), devoted entirely to Mendelssohn. That disc features the lesser known Concerto in D minor for Violin, Piano and Strings, and a fabulous recording of the F major Violin Sonata. Mendelssohn again takes centre stage on this recent release from the Forgotten Records label. This time the pairings are the Schubert A major Sonata 'Duo' D574 and the A minor Sonatina D385. In the latter two works, Gulli is partnered by Enrica Cavallo (1921-2007), his wife.

Franco Gulli (1926-2001) was born in Trieste, and his earliest teacher was his violinist father, who had been a pupil of Otakar Ševčík and Jan Mařák at the Prague Conservatory. Franco went on to study with Joseph Szigeti. He combined a soloist career with that of an orchestral player. He met Enrica Cavallo shortly after the war, and the pair formed the Gulli-Cavallo Duo in 1947. They married in 1950, and performed together for the next fifty years. In tandem with the duo, Gulli gave masterclasses and served on juries. He was a member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, the Accademia Cherubini, Florence, and the Reale Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, and held a Professorship at the University of Bloomington in Indiana. One of his claims to fame was his 1959 recording premiere of the then newly-discovered Paganini Concerto No. 5.

I have to say from the outset that this is one of the most compelling readings of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto that I have ever heard. In large part this is due to the collaborative partnership between Gulli, the La Fenice Orchestra and the conductor Ettore Gracis. There's a true meeting of minds, with Gracis responding sensitively to every nuance and inflection of Gulli's spectacular playing. Then there's the hand in glove ensemble between soloist and orchestra, again due to the inspirational direction of Gracis. In other repertoire, and I'm thinking particularly of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas, Gulli is sparing with expressive devices such as portamenti and suave position changes. Here, he is more generous, but within the bounds of good taste.  His natural contouring of phrases, in this most lyrical of concertos, is alluring. Elegance, poise and secure intonation are positive assets in this immaculately tailored reading.  One drawback, however, is that Gulli possesses a rapid vibrato, which is not very varied, so he doesn't possess the infinite tonal palette of say Heifetz or Menuhin.

When I reviewed the Gulli/Cavallo complete Beethoven Sonata cycle last year, I commented on the intuitive rapport between the two players (review). Gulli's duo partnerships were largely confined to working with his wife, and their familiarity with the repertoire is evidenced in the polish of their performances. Articulation, phrasing and dynamics are carefully matched throughout. These Schubert violin and piano recordings, like the Beethoven, were set down in the mid-fifties. Schubert was a great melodist, and the performances radiate the warmth and lyricism of the music. It's just a pity that the Gulli/Cavallo team didn't record all three of the sonatinas.

The recordings derive from good source copy stereo LPs (Le Club Français du disque  and Musidisc). Transfers and remastering match Forgotten Records usual high standard.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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