Vlado Perlemuter, Vol. XV;  Charles Munch - BSO;  Rene-Pierre Chouteau  (St Laurent Studio YSL T-1069)
Item# P1394
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Vlado Perlemuter, Vol. XV;  Charles Munch - BSO;  Rene-Pierre Chouteau  (St Laurent Studio YSL T-1069)
P1394. VLADO PERLEMUTER: Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel), Broadcast Performance, 1960, Paris; w.René-Pierre Chouteau Cond.: Piano Concerto (1952 (René Herbin) [Posthumous premier performance, Played by the Creator] , Live Performance, 15 March, 1956; w.Charles Munch Cond. Boston S.O.: Variations symphoniques (Franck), Live Performance, 7 Nov., 1961. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1069. [Live performances brilliantly displaying the splendor of the Symphony Hall acoustic] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“Hearing a performance with Perlemuter and Charles Munch attests to Boston’s affection for the Symphonic Variations, which has received 75 performances with the BSO. Supporters point to Franck’s polished construction and the work’s cyclical design, a typical feature of his style....For anyone like me who has taken only a passing interest in the work, Perlemuter and Munch deliver a riveting performance with the kind of passion I’ve never heard elsewhere. Munch was a fiery exponent of French music that other conductors lead with what passes for cultivated refinement and restraint. The FM-stereo broadcast sound form 1961 is quite good. Munch’s BSO wasn’t a model of precision, but this takes nothing away from the enthusiasm of the playing here. Perlemuter is given a great deal of subdued, reflective music and not much in the way of virtuosic display, but he throws himself into the performance. I don’t know if this reading counts as one of a kind, but it is certainly thrilling.

The one thing that music lovers know about Perlemuter, if they know anything at all, is that he was a leading exponent of Ravel’s piano music. After sending a letter to Ravel asking for personal coaching, the young Perlemuter spent six months in Ravel’s home learning his piano music (apparently the composer was a harsh, exacting taskmaster). This led to two recitals in 1929 where he performed all of Ravel’s solo piano music in the presence of the composer. Remarkably, Perlemuter repeated this feat in 1987 at Wigmore Hall in London to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Ravel’s death.

This background gives a special significance to the radio performance here of Ravel’s LE TOMBEAU DE COUPERIN in 1960. It is captured in clear, clean mono sound expertly remastered by producer Yves St.-Laurent. Collectors who know Perlemuter’s studio recordings of Ravel on Vox will be prepared for how unusual his interpretive approach is. In contrast to other Ravel pianists, who aim at a light touch, Perlemuter’s touch is forceful and at times heavy. He doesn’t create gossamer textures and, in a fast, glittering piece like the ‘Toccata’ that ends LE TOMBEAU, he isn’t quicksilver or scintillating.

As a result, far from being considered authoritative (although he considered himself to be), Perlemuter is out of step with modern times in his Ravel. Even so, his playing here is compelling. Ravel wrote this piece in the standard movements of a Baroque suite, and the style is one of the purest examples of his neoclassicism, yet at the same time each of the six movements is dedicated to friends and comrades who died fighting in World War I. I find that Perlemuter captures the suggestion of personal feeling that Ravel so often hides behind his exquisite keyboard technique. One feels emotion even in a formal movement like ‘Fugue’. Expression is the primary element that sets Perlemuter’s reading apart. One would turn to scintillating virtuosos like Alexandre Tharaud and Jean-Yves Thibaudet for showy pianism.

Finally, a rarity in the form of the Piano Concerto from 1952 by the obscure French composer René Herbin (1911–1953). This performance by Perlemuter and conductor René-Pierre Chouteau from 1956 is in commemoration of Herbin’s tragic death three years earlier in an air crash in the French Alps. After graduating with honors from the Paris Conservatoire, he was conscripted in 1939, was captured fighting in Germany, and spent nearly five years of forced labor in a German prison camp. Herbin’s moving story makes me want to praise his Piano Concerto, but it sounds on the whole like outdated claptrap, as if Darius Milhaud decided to indulge in raucous antic Modernism for half an hour.

The music delivers the worst aspects of frivolity and dissonance. There are brief passages of respite here and there; the slow movement is spare and lyrical, for one extended stretch featuring the piano alone. It is done in an anodyne style reminiscent of Poulenc or Honegger. The finale opens with an echo of the Stygian gloom that opens Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand before gamboling off aimlessly. To Perlemuter’s credit, he plays the work as if it was a masterpiece, and the mono sound is quite good.

St. Laurent Studio has made the revival of Perlemuter’s reputation a major goal - this is Vol. 15 in their Perlemuter Edition. A number of previous discs are extensively devoted to Ravel, so I’d say that the chief attraction of this CD is the exciting reading of the Franck. I’m not sure I’d pack any of Franck’s music to keep me company on a desert island, but if I did, this account of the Symphonic Variations would be high on my list.”

- Huntley Dent, FANFARE

“Born in 1911 in Vitry-le-François, René Herbin left his native town and entered the Paris Conservatory where he studied with Isidore Philipp (piano) and Noël Gallon and Henri Büsser(composition). He got two first prices (Prokofiev was in the piano jury !).

He began a double career of pianist and composer. He played with the French cellist Maurice Maréchal in the Far East in 1937, but he was a prisoner between 1939 and 1945. He composed in very difficult conditions.

After the war, he got married, premiered in 1949 his Quartet with piano with the Pasquier Trio. His Concerto for piano and orchestra (1952), commissioned by the State, was premiered in 1956 by Vlado Perlemuter. He vanished with Jacques Thibaud in 1953 in the plane crash above the Mont Cernet. “

- Les amis du Concours Long-Thibaud

“If Vlado Perlemuter, the revered French pianist who studied with Ravel and Fauré and was an acclaimed interpreter of their works, never attained widespread public renown, it may have been because of a certain self-effacing quality in his pianism. But he was enormously respected by musicians and his many admirers, who found his playing a model of refinement and elegance.

In a 1993 review in THE NEW YORK TIMES of a two-disc recording of Ravel's complete works, Bernard Holland praised Mr. Perlemuter for his 'unadorned simplicity, his refusal to milk phrases for momentary effect, in short, his insistence on letting the Classical Ravel speak for himself'. Though a courtly figure on the concert stage, Mr. Perlemuter had commanding presence and played with an alluring palette of colorings.

Vlado Perlemuter studied privately with the Polish-German pianist Moritz Moszkowski. At 13 he entered the Paris Conservatory where he worked with the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot and also studied with Fauré. In 1919, at 15, he won the Conservatory's prestigious Premier Prix. During the 1920s Mr. Perlemuter took lessons privately with Ravel and become one of the first pianists to perform Ravel's complete works. His personal copies of the Ravel scores were covered with instructions written in this master's hand.

Mr. Perlemuter's career thrived until World War II when, as a Jew, he was forced to flee to Switzerland. In an interview with The Associated Press, Adrian Farmer, the music director of Nimbus Records, which produced a series of his recordings in the 1980s and early '90s, said that Mr. Perlemuter's having to leave his homeland during the war was ’the great embitterment of his life'. Mr. Perlemuter was especially distressed, Mr. Farmer added, that Cortot, with whom he was very close, remained in France.

Mr. Perlemuter resumed his career in 1950. His 1955 recording of the complete Ravel piano works became a landmark. Recording them in later years for Nimbus, Mr. Perlemuter played whole stretches of the repertory nonstop, Mr. Farmer said. The recordings were released with almost no touch-ups or editing.

Mr. Perlemuter's other albums from this period include distinguished accounts of works by Fauré, Bach, Debussy, Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. His Chopin playing was particularly admired for its rhythmic subtlety, beautiful details and French-tinged colorings.

From 1951 to 1976, Mr. Perlemuter was a leading professor at the Paris Conservatory. He also gave noted master classes in Britain, Canada and Japan, and served frequently on competition juries."

- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 7 Sept., 2002