Great Violinists – Menuhin

Sonatas for violin and piano opus 30 no 2 in C minor
& opus 47 in A (Kreutzer);Rondo in G WoO 41 (Beethoven)
Rondo in B minor opus 70 (Schubert)

Yehudi Menuhin (violin) Hephzibah Menuhin (piano)

TPT: 01:18:14
Naxos 8.110775

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

This is a disc worth having if only for the pleasure of listening – and re-listening – to the Menuhin siblings revelling in their musicmaking in Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor from opus 12.

The first movement has an urgency, a youthful drive that carries the listener along with it in a performance that leaps from the speakers. Here Hephzibah Menuhin is wondrously nimble and fluent at the piano. The pair are hardly less communicative in the slow movement, the violin line like some sublime ribbon of velvety, warm tone. This is musicianship which should be compulsory listening for anyone who has listened to recorded performances by Yehudi Menuhin made during his long decline. Forget those sad performances. Rejoice instead as you experience the marvel that was Menuhin when at his peak.

The siblings are in glorious form in the scherzo, piercing to the heart of this engaging instance of Beethoven at his most puckishly lighthearted. The concluding allegro is beyond reproach. Some surface hiss and crackle remind us of the age of the recording

This wondrous interpretation was captured for posterity by HMV at EMI’s studios in London in March 1938.

Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is given a very much less persuasive reading. Recorded a year earlier – in 1934 – it is a classic instance of how uneven Menuhin could be as a musician. At times, which became fewer and fewer over the years, there was a god-like perfection about his playing, which enabled him to produce performances of ineffable beauty. Not so here.

Although there are episodes, tantalisingly few, that reveal Menuhin in good form, there is too much about the presentation that is ponderous and effortful, an impression augmented by some wowing in the introduction to the work. It’s not clear whether this relates to the original recording.

The day before the Menuhins recorded the C minor sonata, they went to the EMI studios in London to make a pressing of Beethoven’s little Rondo in G. It’s a gem, its carefree, high-spirited essence captured to the nth degree.

Again, to underscore how erratic Menuhin could be even in his heyday, listen to the Schubert Rondo, recorded a few weeks later.

Here, the siblings sound inspired; the introduction is frankly magnificent. There’s a good deal of portamento in the style of the time in a reading that is alternately imperious and lyrical. At more robust moments, there’s rivetting rhythmic cut and thrust in this exultant performance.

© 2005 Neville Cohn


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