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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto (1939) [25:33]
Quartet, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (1938) [25:50]
Cello Sonata (1948) [22:33]
Henry Merckel (violin)
Guy Deplus (clarinet), Robert Gendre (violin), Roger Albin (cello), Nadine Desouches (piano)
Enrico Mainardi (cello), Fritz Lehmann (piano)
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux / Roger Désormière
rec. 28 December 1948, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris (Concerto): 23 February 1953, radio broadcast (Quartet): 20 November 1950, Hamburg radio broadcast (Sonata)

This all-Hindemith release contains two broadcast performances and a transfer of a studio 78rpm set. Everything was recorded within a tight five-year period, two items in Paris and one, the Cello Sonata, in Hambourg.

By far the best-known item is Henry Merckel’s recording of the Violin Concerto with Roger Désormière, made in December 1948. It’s by no means unique for Forgotten Records to transfer 78s but by far the overwhelming majority of their discs mine the LP market or broadcast tapes. In a review of Joseph Fuchs’ Everest recording of the work with Eugene Goossens I confidently and wrongly stated that this, and not David Oistrakh’s with the composer, was the Hindemith Concerto’s first outing on disc. In point of fact Merckel’s set beat everyone to the line. He plays with the kind of charismatic élan that had been so much a feature of his 1930s recordings: precision, crisp chording, excellent bowing, and stylistic sympathy and with that inimitable tone still pretty much intact (it was later to wane). There is purity and directness in this approach – especially the latter, as this must be one of the fastest, if not the fastest accounts on disc. He plays the slow movement with tight control and the cadenza with compelling bravura. He and Désormière shave minutes off other later accounts – both Gertler and Oistrakh take over 29 minutes, Fuchs 28 but Merckel rips through it in 25 and a half.

This has been transferred by Dutton on CDBP9767 smoothly but somewhat airlessly. FR’s transfer preserves more 78 noise but is more open.

The Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello and piano was captured in a radio broadcast with a flat perspective, so there’s no great depth to the sound but it is clear. The players bring plenty of energy to the performance with clarinetist Guy Deplus prominent – fine technique and an attractive tone – and the string team of Gendre and Albin proving highly proficient. The strong pianist is Nadine Desouches. There’s a powerfully expressive slow movement which is played with real ardour and the jocular ease of the finale, as well as its forlorn-sounding central panel, are alike finely projected in this excellent reading.

The final work is the Cello Sonata played by Enrico Mainardi and Fritz Lehmann, taking time off from his busy conducting duties for this Hamburg radio broadcast. This too is another excellent restoration notwithstanding a slightly flat perspective again. It’s a perceptive piece of playing by both men, notably in the pawky elements of the central movement’s March and in the vigorously articulated urgency of the Passacaglia finale.

The three works were composed within a decade of each other and there is a good balance between the concerto and the two chamber works. Whether composer or artist-led this is a valuable restoration.

Jonathan Woolf

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