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Love is Like a Violin Salon Treasures from the Max Jaffa Library
Simon Blendis (violin)
Saoko Blendis (piano)
rec. 2021, Milton Court Concert Hall, London NIMBUS NI6428 
Max Jaffa was the last of the great British Light Music violinists. With his Palm Court Orchestra and trio he delighted audiences for decades and made numerous broadcasts and recordings. He died in 1991 and about a decade later Simon Blendis, long time violinist with the Schubert Ensemble (until the ensemble disbanded in 2018), and now leader of the London Mozart Players, began playing Jaffa’s Peter Guarnerius violin; this led to his acquisition of Jaffa’s sheet music library and now this recording. It presents a portrait of the fiddler in the round, slower pieces contrasted with faster ones, well-known with more obscure, some with Jaffa’s editorial cuts, others intact. All are played as duos, Blendis teamed with his pianist wife, Saoko, but without slavish imitation either of Jaffa’s inimitable tonal resources, or tempi.
Packing 25 pieces into a 76-minute CD – three minutes a piece, on average – approximates to a concert recital and the Blendis duo cover a wide range of pieces in their commitment to maximal variety. The first two pieces are French or French-themed charmers, warmed by Blendis’s evocative turns of phrase and though he may be playing Jaffa’s fiddle he doesn’t sound like him. There is a full complement of Hungariana and gypsy-inflected items too, of which Korda-Bakony’s Jura-Jura is a splendidly spicy example. To balance them there are expected favourites such as Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair which is heard in an unexpected arrangements, in this case courtesy of Jack Byfield, whose contribution to successive giants of Light Music in Britain was enormous – he played with Albert Sandler and Reg Leopold before joining Jaffa. His arrangement of Jeannie is more modest than the famous high tensile Heifetz one.
Marchetti’s Fascination is a quintessential Palm Court favourite, and it’s heard in Sandler’s arrangement, whilst Dobra-Dobra gives Blendis a chance to pursue Monti-like Czardas territory – to great advantage, it’s a naughty opus with plenty of Gypsy-style derring-do and great fun. Pierné’s sparkling Sérènade was dedicated to Kreisler and receives a charming reading here – it rounds out Jaffa’s ‘light classical’ territory adeptly, and if he prefers crystalline refinement to Mischa Elman’s tonal luxuriance in Sammartini’s Canto Amoroso (heard in Elman’s own famous arrangement) that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not sure if Yascha Krein made any recordings but he was a famous player in his day, performing with his Gypsy band up and down the length of the country, and his Gypsy Carnival is a perfect vehicle for Blendis as it’s full of chirping bravado and saucy wit.
The programme offers a wide variety of such small-scale and combustible – or sentimental – pleasures, some expected – Hubay’s Hejre Kati and Gluck’s Melodie (played with unadorned purity) – others less encountered such as Joe Rixner’s Spitzbub, a very funny kind of moto perpetuo Polka, and Ketèlbey’s Dream-Idyll. Ketèlbey was fortunate to have a virtuoso violinist, Harold, as a brother. As an envoi the Blendis duo play the inevitable Londonderry Air, Blendis playing con sordino in the reprise à la Bayfield’s arrangement.
With a finely judged recording and Simon Blendis’ own booklet notes, this is a charming and packed recital that offers a rich variety of lighter pleasures in arrangements that have been subjected to some necessary editorial decision-making. The two performers evoke the aura of past times effectively not through imitation or assumed period techniques – no glutinous Palm Court slides here, not that Jaffa perpetuated those – but rather through a serious, respectful but humorous and witty look at Jaffa’s repertoire.
Miarka Laparcerie: Love Is Like A Violin (arr. for Violin and Piano by Barry Tattenhall)
René Costy: Valsette (arr. for Violin and Piano by Glen Powell)
Korda Bakony: Jura-Jura
Stephen Foster : Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair (arr. for Violin and Piano by Jack Byfield)
Frederic Curzon: The Violin Is A Lady
Franz Drdla: Serenade, No. 1
Femo Marchetti: Fascination (arr. for Violin and Piano by Albert Sandler)
Auguste van Biene: The Broken Melody
Max Skalka, Felix Stahl: Dobra-Dobra
Stephen Foster: Old Folks At Home (arr. for Violin and Piano by Jack Byfield)
Gabriel Pierné: Serenade, Op. 7]
Victor Herbert: A la Valse
Manuel Ponce: Estrellita (arr. for Violin and Piano by Jascha Heifetz)
Guiseppe Sammartini: Canto Amoroso (arr. for Violin and Piano by Mischa Elman)
Yascha Krein: Gipsy Carnival
John Dyer: The Voice Of The Violin
Alfredo d'Amrosio: Canzonetta, Op. 6
Reynaldo Hahn: If My Songs Were Only Winged!
Jenő Hubay: Scène de la csárda No. 4 'Hejre Kati', Op. 32
Phil Green: Romance (arr. for Violin and Piano by Jack Byfield)
Michael Spivakowsky: Addio Firenze
Joe Rixner: Spitzbub
Christoph Willibald von Gluck: Melodie (arr. for Violin and Piano by Fritz Kreisler)
Albert Ketèlbey: Dream-Idyll
anon.: Londonderry Air (arr. for Violin and Piano by Jack Byfield)