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(1920 - 1990)

Maurice Gendron, who has the distinction of being the only cellist to appear on a commercial recording under the baton of Pablo Casals, began music lessons on the violin with his mother, a performer for silent movies. At five he switched to a quarter-size cello and at ten was taken to a recital by Feuermann by his teacher Stéphane Odero; although he idolised Feuermann from that moment, Gendron’s family could never afford to take up the master’s offer of lessons. Even when he took a place at the Paris Conservatoire he had to sell newspapers to fund his expenses, and lived in unheated lodgings.

After World War II (during which he joined the Resistance, being unfit for military service) Gendron met Britten and Peter Pears in Paris; this led to his solo début in London’s Wigmore Hall, accompanied by Britten, in which he shared the bill with Pierre Bernac and Poulenc. The same year, 1945, he gave the European première of Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Walter Susskind. He also played trios with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin and recorded Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with them in 1964. Like most eminent performers Gendron also taught; much of his pedagogic material was collated by one of his pupils, Walter Grimmer, and published after his death as The Art of Playing the Cello.

Gendron’s playing represents some of the most refined musicianship of the mid-twentieth century, testifying perhaps to Feuermann’s influence. The earliest of his recordings selected here are a sensitive rendition of Schumann’s Cello Concerto (1953) and a beautifully shaped Schubert ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata arrangement (1954) which, whilst bereft of some of the flexibilities and Romantic gestures of the early recordings era, is nonetheless delivered powerfully. There is some particularly insightful pianism by Jean Françaix, who was part of the Parisian bohemian circle (Braque, Cocteau, Chagall, Picasso et al.) with whom Gendron became friendly via the Neveu family; both players conceive phrase shapes with nuance and a sense of destination, especially effective in the brooding slow movement and spacious, thoughtful finale.

From the 1960s, we have a fine performance of Boccherini’s B flat Concerto under the baton of Pablo Casals (1961) which, whilst lacking shape and nuance in places by today’s standards, is historically significant. Gendron was the first modern cellist to play the original version of Boccherini’s work, not the one bowdlerised by Friedrich Grützmacher in the nineteenth century, and here he enlivens it with convincing (if rather long) cadenzas of his own composition. A 1964 recording of the Bach Suites (represented here by No. 6) shows a pleasing sense of detail in characterising the dance idioms of the various movements, balancing this with sustained, singing melodic lines. These are delivered with technical excellence (although the ever-present vibrato is stylistically inappropriate and outmoded) and, as an intelligent interpretation of the works, Gendron’s rivals the more rough-hewn recordings of Casals.

The inclusion here of two piano trios from the 1963 Aldeburgh Festival not only pays homage to Gendron’s association with Yehudi Menuhin, but is also an excuse to include the wonderful pianism of Benjamin Britten, best heard perhaps in the Piano Trio No. 2 by Britten’s former teacher, Frank Bridge, which is a concentrated interpretation. The Beethoven ‘Ghost’ Trio has a suitable sense of portent in the slow movement and, throughout, Gendron’s playing is stalwart and reliable.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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