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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Violin Concerto in D major (1931) [21:36]
Claude ARRIEU (1903-1990)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor (1949) [23:04]
Jeanne Gautier (violin), Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Jacques Pernoo (Stravinsky), Eugène Bigot (Arrieu)
rec. July 1956 (Stravinsky); December 1959 (Arrieu), Paris

If ever there was a list of neglected violinists, Jeanne Gautier (1898–1974) would be up at the top of it. A pupil of Henri Berthelier at the Paris Conservatoire, she belongs to a great tradition of French violinists which included Henry Merckel, Ginette Neveu and Michèle Auclair. Later in her career, she teamed up with pianist Yvonne Lefébure and cellist André Levy to form the Trio de France who, for the most part, devoted themselves to French and contemporary music. The Strad magazine described her playing as embodying “a quintessentially Gallic blend of astringency and sensuousness”. In California, during the Second World War, Gautier worked with Stravinsky on his Duo for piano and violin, so it’s apt that Stravinsky should feature at the top of the bill on this fascinating release from Forgotten Records.

Gautier is on top form for the technically demanding Stravinsky Concerto. This wonderful concerto, neoclassical in style, is drafted in four movements, where two outer vigorous movements bookend two measured lyrical Arias. These two Arias contain some of the most affectionate music the composer ever penned. To them, Gautier brings a wealth of tenderness and heartfelt emotion. There’s an abundance of humour in the finale, which the violinist characterizes with great aplomb, utilizing some stunning bow effects. The violin is highly profiled, with the orchestra very much consigned to the shadows. The acoustic is fairly boxy. Nevertheless, Jacques Pernoo directs a rhythmically riveting reading.

This is my first encounter with the French composer Claude Arrieu. She was born in Paris and studied at the Conservatoire there. Her teachers included Marguerite Long for piano, and Georges Caussade, Noël Gallon, Jean Roger-Ducasse and Paul Dukas for composition. She won first prize in the latter category in 1932. She worked in broadcasting for several years. Her compositions embraced many styles. There are concertos for violin, piano, flute, trumpet and strings and wind quintet and strings. She also wrote chamber music, in addition to music for theatre, film, radio, and music hall. By all accounts, her compositional output was prolific. She died in Paris in 1990.

Arrieu’s four-movement Second Violin Concerto in D minor dates from 1949, and was premiered by Gautier a year later, with André Cluytens. This broadcast was taped much later in December 1950. It begins with an animated opener, where the soloist is hardly let off the hook. The slow movement, marked Grave, is an absolute delight, dreamy and soothing. A sprightly Scherzo, spiky and crisp, follows. Again, there’s some impressive bowing from Gautier. The finale is furnished with a surfeit of verve and vigour, and there’s a brief central section in which Arrieu displays her credentials as a more than competent film music composer. Eugene Bigot proves a sympathetic collaborator. The sound balance is an improvement on the Stravinsky performance.

These two radio broadcasts add considerably to the meagre and unjustly neglected discography of this sadly forgotten violinist. Forgotten Records have supplied some notes in French.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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