Label : EMI
Format : Flac track
Cover : No
n these fifty-one CDs – the fifty first consists of spoken recollections and musical illustrations – we have enshrined over fifty years of music-making from one of the most beloved musical figures of the twentieth century. I can only briefly touch on what’s here and have only sampled this set, though I have listened to something from each disc, even if only a couple of tracks.
The first discs are given over to Bach. Menuhin starts the whole box, somewhat unexpectedly perhaps in the circumstances, as conductor of the Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra in the Second, Third and Fifth Brandenburg Concertos. Since the set is often duplicatory we have the enviable pleasure of comparing and contrasting performances; the Bach Double for instance with Ferras is here and elsewhere we find the famed Menuhin-Enescu. But there is also slightly less familiar fare – the de los Angeles contributions to two cantatas for instance. Naturally the ravishing violin and oboe concerto with Goossens takes its assured place at the end of disc two. The Bach violin concertos are heard in the 1958 stereos and the pre-war Enescu directed performances but the sonatas and partitas are the pre-war versions. The later remakes are not included and there is a case for preferring them in a number of interpretative respects.
Discs seven and eight are given over to Bartók. The Sz36 Concerto (No.1), No.2 and the Viola Concerto – edited by Serly of course – are directed by Dorati. Interesting to hear his viola playing, as it is later in the set in Harold in Italy when directed by Colin Davis. The solo sonata recordings date from 1947 and 1957 and there are – usefully – six duos for two violins where he is partnered by that considerable player Nell Gotkovsky; elsewhere incidentally we have Spohr duos with Gioconda de Vito.
There are three performances of the Beethoven Violin Concerto – Furtwängler, Silvestri, and Menuhin’s self-directed 1971 effort, in descending order of significance. The pre-war Hephzibah Menuhin Kreutzer sonata is here, and splendid it is, along with the Brahms Op.108 sonata, but for the cycle of Beethoven sonatas we have the Louis Kentner set from 1952. Kentner was Menuhin’s brother-in-law and they make a congenial pairing. Menuhin’s vibrato is sometimes alarmingly wide though and his intonation suspect. The story of Menuhin’s post war decline is often trotted out but it tends to be done in too absolute a sense. His 1951 Japanese tour for instance saw playing as magnificent as any in his career – it’s on Biddulph – and he was still producing many excellent performances into the 1960s and indeed beyond, if, admittedly, erratically.
The pairing of Berg and Bloch – the former with Boulez, the latter with Kletzki – forms the spine of disc sixteen. Neither is perfect but both are examples of his commitment to the music of his time. So too is the disc that gives us the Berkeley, Panufnik and Williamson concertos – the last in particular is a powerful work that really shouldn’t languish as it has. From 1974 comes the haunting and magnificent Frank Martin Polyptyque in a recording of great value
Brahms obviously looms large – the concerto with Furtwängler (Lucerne, 1949) and with Kempe (Berlin, 1957) and the Double with Tortelier in 1984, which is when I heard them play it in concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The sextets are powerful, and sport an elite corpus of colleagues. French music is nicely represented in disc twenty two. You may not have caught the Chausson Concert with Kentner and the Pascal Quartet – the latter adding evocative Gallic strength. The Poulenc sonata with Février is thin toned.
British music is well represented. The august Elgar-directed B minor Concerto obviously holds sway – the Boult stereo remake is not here. VW’s Concerto Academico, this time with Boult, is here. In a parallel sonata disc Elgar’s sonata gets a disappointing reading but VW’s sonata, recorded at the same time, is better and Walton’s sonata with Kentner from 1950 vastly better still. The 1968-69 Walton violin and viola concertos with the composer conducting are also here.
A famous pre-war disc of Enescu’s Sonata No. 3 is balanced by a less well known 1948 Prokofiev First Sonata with Marcel Gazelle. The Franck is with Kentner. In the three Grieg sonatas he is partnered by Robert Levin in 1957 – he was a fine and longstanding sonata partner of Menuhin’s American colleague Camilla Wicks. There is a sequence of Handel sonatas with Ambrose Gauntlett and George Malcolm. The last named had track record on disc before with these works, having recorded them for Decca with Campoli.
Back to concertos. The Symphonie espagnole is heard with Enescu (1933) and Eugene Goossens from 1956. Conductorial elegance for Saint-Saëns is provided by Gaston Poulet. Well known and youthful traversals of the Mendelssohn and Dvo?ák concertos are obviously here and so too, equally obviously, the Mendelssohn with Furtwängler too – my first CD purchase – as well as the 1958 Kurtz. We’ve not mentioned Mozart and we must. The Enescu and Monteux pre-war K216, 271a and 294a are here. With the Bath Festival we have the cycle of five and with Barshai K364 – a good performance. A supplement arrives in the shape of K218 from wartime Liverpool with Malcolm Sargent. There are sonatas – or movements therefrom – with his sisters. A disc is given over entirely to Paganini and another is shared with virtuoso fare from Vieuxtemps – the Fourth and Fifth concertos, inevitably, with Susskind and Fistoulari. Whilst his Nielsen concerto is a known and admired quantity some may not have caught his Sibelius with Boult, who was himself a most convincing Sibelian. It may not be quite atmospheric enough but there are truly fine things in it.
Gioconda de Vito reappears for 1955 traversals of Purcell, Handel and Viotti in disc forty one – juxtaposed awkwardly with Vivaldi’s Concerto in D RV210 in a 1982 recording with Jerzy Maksymiuk and a 1963 disc of Mozart’s Concertone. There’s more Purcell and Corelli and the Four Seasons later on. It’s good to hear Cassadó and Kentner in Ravel’s Trio though once again Menuhin is less persuasive tonally in the Debussy sonata with Février. There are Schubert trios (Gendron, and Hephzibah Menuhin) and Alan Civil in the Brahms Horn Trio. The Sarasate and Kreisler disc derives from pre-war sessions – all canonic and brilliant – whilst there are also the Grappelli recordings to consider, which are more of an acquired taste. The last disc – phew, we’ve made it – consists of extracts from a talk made in 1995. It’s all pretty well tilled soil but good to have. Jon Tolansky, who introduces it, gets on my nerves with an affected pronunciation of Bartók’s surname.
How best can one sum up fifty one discs that contain the greatest of Menuhin’s recordings and some less well known nuggets? It’s on sale currently with an on-line British seller for £93 which is a whack, true, but represents pretty much all you will ever need from the artist – with the exception of more peripheral things, or things that specialists, connoisseurs or completists must have. Given the many duplications and the cross-denominational nature of some performances of Menuhin-the-conductor, it may not be a set for the less committed Menuhin admirer, to put it mildly. For others I think that there will be enough rarities to entice.
Tracklist : Yehudi Menuhin – The Great EMI Recordings