About this Recording
8.110988 - MOZART / BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas (Menuhin) (1929-1947)

Great Violinists • Yehudi Menuhin
MOZART: Violin Sonatas K. 376 and K. 526 • BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 10

This release covers almost two decades of Yehudi Menuhin’s career as a chamber musician. It also charts the progress, over some fourteen years, of his duo with his younger sister Hephzibah, from their earliest recording together, made in Paris more than a year before they dared to appear as a partnership in public, to one of their first post-war studio performances. In between those extremes comes one of their more mature interpretations from the 1930s, a Mozart sonata which they set down in 1938. This programme also steps outside the work of the brother-and-sister duo to bring us Yehudi’s first sonata recording, made when he was only thirteen and in the midst of his studies with the greatest of all interpreters of the Beethoven violin sonatas, Adolf Busch. There is special musical interest, too, in that the second last sonata of Mozart (from 1787) and the last of Beethoven (from 1812, revised in 1815) are here. They in themselves span almost three decades and seem to come not just from different centuries but from different worlds. Like his friend and colleague David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin was to spend years pondering the special problems of Beethoven’s seemingly innocuous Op. 96, and this 1947 recording was already his second of the work, following one that he and Hephzibah made in May 1938.

Hephzibah Menuhin was born in San Francisco on 20th May 1920 and made her début there in 1928. Among her teachers were Adolf Busch’s sonata partner Rudolf Serkin in Basel and Marcel Ciampi in Paris. She started playing sonatas with Yehudi in 1933, recorded Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K. 526, with him that September and, having in the meantime made further visits to the studios, first appeared with him in public at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, on 13th October 1934. For a time following her first marriage in 1938 she lived in Australia, but after the Second World War she settled in London, where she remarried. A woman of firm principles, she was known to open her house to vagrants and other down-and-outs. As a musician she was happiest in Mozart, although she covered a wide repertoire. Her recordings include Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet with members of the Amadeus Quartet, Mozart concertos with her brother conducting, trios with Yehudi and Maurice Gendron – their collaboration lasted 25 years – and sonatas with Yehudi, among which should be mentioned those by Bartók, Enescu and Franck. She died in London on New Year’s Day 1981 after a long illness. Her brother wrote of her: ‘Such was Hephzibah’s sensitivity that she did not need many words. She was an extraordinary instrument, almost an extension of myself’.

Born in New York on 22nd April 1916, Yehudi Menuhin died in Berlin on 12th March 1999. Between those 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 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 in Basel with Busch. From 1931 the family, who lived off Yehudi’s earnings, established their home near Paris, and the following year the boy 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 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 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 founded schools in England and Switzerland. The public, nevertheless, 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 Menuhin parents had tried several accompanists for Yehudi before Adolf Busch suggested his own pianist, Hubert Giesen, then a young man of 31. Giesen, who in due course accompanied many of the great singers and instrumentalists and became a mentor to the tragically shortlived tenor Fritz Wunderlich, had started out as a protégé of Fritz Busch, Adolf’s elder brother. ‘Hubsie’, as Giesen was known, toured with the Menuhins and lived with them as one of the family. He also had the honour of sharing in one of Yehudi’s first large-scale recordings. Amazingly, the recording of Beethoven’s Sonata in D major was made on the same day as that of Bach’s Solo Sonata in C major, at the Queen’s Small Hall in London, with one project completed in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Menuhin and Giesen also recorded a filler for the sixth side of the Beethoven set, the Andante sostenuto from Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K. 296. This was a testament not only to how well Yehudi had been coached by Adolf Busch, but also to the boy’s natural, unaffected way of making music in those days (it was a knack he would later lose and would recapture only after a great deal of soul-searching). The Bach sonata was not released until almost two years had passed, and was one of the first issues in the new Connoisseur Catalogue. HMV did not issue the Beethoven and Mozart set until midway through 1932, which meant that Op. 12 No. 1 was rather unfairly reviewed next to the Busch-Serkin Duo’s 1931 recording of Op. 12 No. 3 in E flat. After a glowing critique of the Menuhin set, referring to ‘splendid tone and flawless technique’ as well as Giesen’s ‘delightful touch’, in turning to the Busch recording the reviewer in The Gramophone wrote: ‘…one discovers that the younger player has still something to learn, after all’. He would soon learn it, of course, and would pass a lot of his own accumulated knowledge on to Hephzibah, as the other recordings here testify. The Mozart Sonata in F, K. 376, is particularly treasurable because Yehudi Menuhin never returned to it in the studio.

Tully Potter

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