About this Recording
8.110967 - MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto / LALO: Symphonie espagnole (Menuhin) (1933, 1938)

Great Violinists • Yehudi Menuhin

Great Violinists • Yehudi Menuhin

MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847): Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

LALO (1832-1892): Symphonie Espagnole

CHAUSSON (1855-1899): Poème, Op. 25

The great Romanian violinist and composer George Enescu (1881-1955) left few recordings as a soloist, and perhaps the only one to show him at something like his formidable best was a set of two discs of Ernest Chausson’s Poème, made in America in 1929 with piano accompaniment. He was considered the successor to its dedicatee Eugène Ysaÿe as an interpreter of the Poème, although he did not use Ysaÿe’s edition because he disagreed with many of his Belgian colleague’s bowings and fingerings. Enescu’s strong identification with this haunting piece was passed on to his teenage pupil Yehudi Menuhin, who always said it was the work in which he stuck most faithfully to Enescu’s instructions, and the recording the two of them made together in June 1933 was one of the best by the young prodigy. Even more important, in a sense, was the recording they set down on the previous day. Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, while a popular part of the violin repertoire, had long been performed in a mutilated form. The soloists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, perhaps feeling that five movements were too much for their audiences, and perhaps also finding justification in the ‘symphony’ part of the work’s title, used to cut out the lovely Intermezzo. Even Menuhin played the four-movement version to begin with (it was the first music he performed with orchestra). This sort of thing was not good enough for Enescu and it was through his encouragement that Menuhin recorded the work complete. Curiously enough, the splendid French violinist Henri Merckel had made a more or less complete recording for HMV a year earlier, with the conductor Piero Coppola, and Lola Bobesco would follow suit for Columbia in 1942. It would be nice to be able to say that these recordings were hugely influential and that all the other violinists immediately saw the error of their ways, but in truth famous artists such as Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein were still playing (and recording) the vandalised version in the 1950s. Happily the more conscientious David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan opted for the full score, and Arthur Grumiaux, having made one recording with just the four movements, repented when he came to do his stereo remake. In the meantime Menuhin went on to make three more recordings of it, as, indeed, he also did with the Poème.

Born in New York on 22nd April 1916, Yehudi Menuhin died in Berlin on 12th March 1999. Between those two dates he metamorphosed from the child of obscure Russian immigrants into Baron Menuhin of Stoke d’Abernon, perhaps the best-known musician in the world and a sort of international statesman. He was brought up initially in San Francisco and after two years of lessons with Siegmund Anker, began studies with Louis Persinger in 1923. Two years later he gave his first full solo recital, then in 1926 came his New York début, his concerto début in San Francisco and his first trip to Europe, where he studied in Paris with Enescu apart from two summers spent in Basel with Adolf Busch. From 1931 the family established their home near Paris, and the following year Menuhin recorded Elgar’s Violin Concerto under the composer’s direction. After a world tour in 1935 he took an eighteen-month sabbatical and then entered on a disastrous first marriage: his parents Moshe and Marutha had not prepared him for real life. Many wartime concerts and a 1945 tour of the German death camps with Benjamin Britten were followed by a successful second marriage and a career lived constantly in the limelight. In due course he took up conducting, making numerous recordings in that rôle, and although he never had much time available for teaching, he involved himself in many educational projects, founding schools in England and Switzerland. The public, however, continued to associate him with the violin, even when he had given up playing it, and much of Menuhin’s later life was spent trying to reconcile his increasing musical mastery with his diminishing control over his instrument. The recordings here were made when he was at the peak of his technical powers.

The music of Mendelssohn was to run like a leitmotif through Menuhin’s life. It was he who made the early Concerto in D minor popular, recording it three times. He dusted off the F major Sonata, edited it, recorded it and brought it into the repertoire, and he also played and recorded the D minor Double Concerto with his pianist sister Hephzibah. It was, of course, the great E minor Concerto, one of the most perfect masterpieces for the violin, that he played the most. He first performed it in public when he was seven and it became one of his war-horses. In 1950 he played it to an audience of black South Africans, prevented by the Apartheid policy from attending his main concerts, in the Johannesburg township of Sophiatown. Altogether he recorded the E minor Concerto four times and his 1958 version, with Efrem Kurtz conducting, deservedly became an all-time best-seller. The version from twenty years earlier which is reproduced here did not do so well in the market-place, although it was well received. The war limited its distribution and it had strong competition first from Joseph Szigeti’s recording and later from those by Mischa Elman, Heifetz and Milstein. Nevertheless Menuhin always had more to say in this concerto, especially in its moments of introspection and transition, than any of his rivals and there are fine things to be heard here. In some ways it is the best played of his four versions and it is an essential part of the Menuhin discography.

Tully Potter

Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.

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