S0800.YEHUDI MENUHIN & MAURICE GENDRON: Sonata for Violin & Cello (Ravel); YEHUDI & JEREMY MENUHIN: Violin Sonata in g (Debussy) [“I wrote this sonata only to be rid of the thing, spurred on by my dear publisher. This sonata will be interesting from a documentary point of view and as an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war.” – Claude Debussy]; YEHUDI MENUHIN, BRUNO PASQUIER, MAURICE GENDRON & JEREMY MENUHIN: Piano Quartet #1 in c, Op.15 (Fauré); JEANNE-MARIE DARRÉ & JACQUES FÉVRIER: Dolly Suite (Fauré); Ma Mère l’Oye (Ravel) – Live Performance, 17 June, 1958, Pavillon Philips, Brussels; QUATUOR VIA NOVA (Mouillère, le Floch, Caussé, Benedetti & Jeanne-Marie Darré): Concerto in D, Op.21 (Chausson), Live Performance, 31 March, 1971, Salle Playel, Paris. [Among Yves St Laurent's most remarkable issues; the Chausson Concerto is truly the pièce de résistance!] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio T-1133. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Yehudi Menuhin enjoyed a unique position outside his greatness as a violinist. The political upheavals of the twentieth century caused some famous musicians to protest on behalf of freedom, including Toscanini’s refusal to conduct in Mussolini’s Italy and Pablo Casals’ highly visible self-exile from Franco’s Spain. The issue of freedom versus tyranny didn’t occupy Menuhin as much as his advocacy of humanitarianism. He toured the Nazi death camp at Bergen-Belsen after World War II and gave two recitals with Benjamin Britten in a displaced persons camp; he also made himself a lightning rod by being one of the first Jewish artists after the war to perform under Furtwängler. If you are attuned to this inspirational quality, which Menuhin’s students and fellow musicians responded to strongly, it seems to emerge in his performances as well.
As an admirer who considers him a musical hero, I hear something special in St. Laurent Studio’s release of a live concert from the Salle Pleyel, Paris in 1971. Menuhin, like Joseph Szigeti and Christian Tetzlaff, makes the violin ‘speak’ in gradations of tone that aim at the same expression as the human voice rather than beautiful tone for its own sake. This makes even his later performances - Menuhin was 55 at the time of this concert - an opportunity to appreciate his gifts, despite a much remarked upon decline in his technique. Whether or not technical issues play a critical part in your response to this generous 2-CD set is an individual matter, naturally. I had no trouble hearing the musicianship behind some passing flaws in intonation.
In chamber music, particularly in later years, Menuhin liked to make it a family affair, which included his sister Hepzibah, who accompanies him here in the Debussy Violin Sonata, and son Jeremy, who is the pianist in the Fauré Piano Quartet #1. Also part of the immediate circle were the cellist Maurice Gendron and pianist Jacques Février. Menuhin may not be closely associated with French repertoire, but he made a studio recording of the Debussy sonata with Février in 1974 for EMI, and there is a live recording with Benjamin Britten from much earlier, at the 1959 Aldeburgh Festival, when Menuhin’s technique was more secure and Britten served as a wonderfully imaginative pianist.
Here in Paris, Hepzibah might not be Britten’s equal, but she offers spirited accompaniment, and Menuhin, who is closely miked, provides the kind of tonal variety and nuance that I so appreciate from him. The reading has real presence, and Menuhin applies both intensity and delicacy. The Violin Sonata is very late in Debussy’s career and represents a deliberate simplification of style. It’s a challenge to add an extra dimension to the music, but Menuhin does.
He has a more equal partner in Ravel’s strikingly unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello. The score occupied Ravel between 1920 and 1922 and was dedicated to Debussy, who had died in 1918. The spare instrumentation limits the composer’s remarkable gift for instrumental color, but the second movement, marked ‘Très vif’, uses an ordinary technique like pizzicato to create a strangely ominous mood, which Menuhin and Gendron throw themselves into with a will. Throughout there is a powerful presence in their playing, and a sense of abandon that one might not identify with Menuhin. (This same performance can be found in Warner’s 7-CD box set, THE MENUHIN CENTURY.)
The two big ensemble works are the Fauré Piano Quartet #1 and Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet, the former being much more common on disc than the latter. (Menuhin made studio recordings of both works, but my cursory investigation didn’t disclose that either performance made it to CD - Menuhin’s recordings from every period have been reissued so often that there’s always a chance that my information is wrong.) Except for a change in violist, the lineup for the Fauré is the same as the HMV stereo LP account, which dates from 1971, the same year as this concert. Son Jeremy was only 19 at the time, and he finds himself in august company. Without being a model of polished execution, this live performance is carried along by its vibrancy and a palpable joy in making music.
I found it a delightful listen, and the Chausson concerto, with the noted French pianist Jeanne-Marie Darré, exudes passion and conviction. (The pianist in the studio account was Louis Kentner.) In CD or digital format the Chausson is a particularly important addition for Menuhin collectors, and as remastered by Yves St.-Laurent, the recorded sound is very good FM broadcast stereo for the time; there is virtually no tape hiss and no other sonic irritants at all. Darré’s piano playing is eloquent, and the whole performance is inspiring.
Darré returns with Février as a piano duo in the bonus material that fills out CD 2 which comes from a 1958 recital in Brussels. Fauré’s Dolly Suite is played with the utmost charm. Ravel’s delicate Ma mère l’Oye is given in the original 1910 suite of five movements for piano duet. This performance is a model of refinement and complete understanding of Ravel’s idiom. Necessarily the mono sound is limited - the pianos are far forward in a dry acoustic, which makes their tone rather hard—but it is very listenable in YSL’s clean remastering.
This release is Vol. 15 in the series of ‘Raretés françaises’ from St. Laurent Studio. As prodigious as this label’s output is in every genre, it has proved to be a unique source for French recitals by famous performers. This new release is treasurable in every musical respect and honors Menuhin (and company) as the invaluable artist he was. Strongly recommended.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Jeanne-Marie Darré, a French pianist whose interpretations of Chopin and Liszt solo works and the Saint-Saëns Concertos were admired for their sophistication and interpretive inventiveness, was an elegant player who dazzled with the strength and clarity of her technique but was also a provocative interpreter. Her account of the Liszt Sonata in b minor, for example, was unusually slow but also uncommonly rich in lyricism and detail. Miss Darré also had considerable stamina. When she was 21 she played all five of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos in a single program with the Concerts Lamoureux Orchestra, conducted by Paul Paray. She repeated that feat twice and sometimes played all the Chopin Études and Préludes in a single recital program.
Miss Darré’s principal teachers were Isidore Philipp and Marguerite Long, through whom she met and worked with several great French composers of the time, among them Fauré, Saint-Saëns and Ravel.
She made her debut at 14 and at first pursued her career mostly in Europe. By the time she performed in the United States for the first time, in February 1962, she was a revered teacher at the Paris Conservatory, had been awarded the Legion of Honor and had been made a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. She had also made several recordings that were treasured by collectors of piano works, so her debut at Carnegie Hall with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra was an eagerly anticipated event.
Miss Darré played the Saint-Saëns Concerto #2 on that occasion. Harold C. Schoenberg, reviewing the performance for THE NEW YORK TIMES, described her as ‘an exciting, formidable, electrical virtuoso, who can do anything at the keyboard and do it with aplomb’. ‘But it is not all technique’, he wrote. ‘She has complete tonal control, and a massive sonority’.
Miss Darré returned to give her first American recitals at the end of 1962, and returned regularly through the early 1980s, when she retired from the concert stage.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1 Feb., 1999
“Jacques Février studied with Edouard Risler and Marguerite Long at the Paris Conservatoire, winning a premier prix in Long’s class in 1921. He specialised in French music and became a champion of the music of 'Les Six'. From childhood he was acquainted with Ravel, who had known his father in Fauré’s composition class at the Paris Conservatoire. Young Jacques would visit Ravel at Sainte-Croix in Neuilly where the composer was living with his mother. During his years at the Conservatoire, Février regularly visited Ravel and studied and played many of his works with him. Ravel chose Février to play his Concerto for the Left Hand, originally written for Paul Wittgenstein, and after three years of exclusive rights had elapsed Février played it all over the world. He said, ‘I had studied it with Ravel. Although already very ill, he knew perfectly well what he wanted and what he forbade. When Marguerite Long was learning the Concerto in G major I accompanied her on the second piano. Ravel was behind me, and I still remember exactly what he asked of her.’ In 1932 Février gave the première of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos with the composer at the second piano and often gave concerts with Poulenc or Auric. In 1952 Février became Professor of Chamber Music at the Paris Conservatoire.
His recording of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, made with the composer in 1962, is still a classic and will always remain the benchmark for other performances. It was in 1971 that he recorded the complete solo works of Ravel for Adès which are now available on compact disc in France as are the complete solo works of Debussy, originally recorded for Véga in 1963. The Ravel set is particularly fine and deserves a wider circulation, since in addition to Février having studied many of the works with the composer, he has an obvious understanding of this music and an ability to reveal the textures with clarity and precision.
In the early 1970s Février recorded a great deal of Poulenc for French EMI including chamber music; the sonatas for violin with Yehudi Menuhin, and for cello with Pierre Fournier. Février also recorded the sonatas for violin and cello by Debussy, with Menuhin and Maurice Gendron.”
- Jonathan Summers, Naxos' A–Z of Pianists