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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2009

Surviving examples of Menuhin’s way with this work [the Violin Sonata No 1] have largely been with sister Hephzibah—1957, a BBC recital from 1961, Moscow the following year; there’s a recording with Jeremy Menuhin from 1981—but this early example is as fine as any. Here we feel the full force of the Menuhin tone and the estimable Baller keeps him fervent company; the whole recording and performance stand as eloquent rebukes to the later concerto recording. Everything that is wrong there was right in New York. This is the place to go to appreciate Menuhin’s understanding of Bartók’s grammar.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

Yehudi Menuhin was not a prolific champion of 20th century music, but was particularly associated with Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, a work he recorded seven times. He was with the Hungarian conductor, Antal Dorati, for three of the four studio versions, but in 1953 settled his differences with the conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had stood accused of Nazi sympathies, and recorded this version for HMV. That he placed it on disc so often shows passion for a score that was only in the repertoire of a few soloists. Dorati showed a greater ability to capture the earthiness in the accompaniment, and by today’s standards the Philharmonia and Furtwängler would be taken to task on many counts. So far as Menuhin was concerned, he generally captured the feel of the work, though we must overlook the sugary tone in the slow movement and excuse the lack of impetus in the mood change mid-way through the movement. The finale was too slow, and the work’s ending required an injection of drama. If you want a performance more precise in terms of dynamics and intonation, then you turn to Gyorgy Pauk on Naxos [8.554321], a performance described in the UK’s Gramophone magazine as ‘essential listening for Bartok enthusiasts’. Much the same could be said of Pauk’s account of the First Violin Sonata [8.550749]. Menuhin—to whom the work was dedicated—had Adolph Baller as his partner, and between them they offer well-integrated accounts of movements that can become episodic. This recording, made by RCA in 1947, was good for the period, though the concerto was nothing remarkable for 1953. No doubt Menuhin fans will snap up this budget price release, not least for the outstanding transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn.

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