The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (84): Franckly speaking

The ultimate conversation of violin and piano. The ultimate interpretation?


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  • Franco-Belge violinists really do have the idiom under the bow: Grumiaux, Francescatti and above all the great Christian Ferras

  • Of all arts music cannot be the ultimate anything, either
    in the composition of a work or in its interpretation.

    • You gotta be joking! All my youth, Oistrakh was a legend and his relatively rare appearances in Western Europe had Q’s round the block. His recordings were eagerly awaited and snapped up immediately.
      What an absurd declaration!

  • Well, if this version is not the ultimate, then King David’s live version with Richter then must be it.

    Special pleading on my part, but, Arturo Delmoni’s 1982 recording with Meg Bachman Vas in NYC’s Church of the Holy Trinity is treasurable. Audiophiles swoon over the 30-ips two-track analog tape sound from a grand total of two ribbon microphones.

    Arturo Delmoni studied with Heifetz and Gingold, so he has that “Golden-Age” sound and phrasing.

    • Oh yes I reviewed the CD for Fanfare and liked it very much – with the first Fauré Sonata which is also beautifully played, and a Fauré encore. Delmoni is a very sensitive and imaginative artist. It is a rare “AAD” compact disc, not the more usual “ADD” ,

      The version of the Franck that I grew up with is Francescatti/Casadesus on Columbia 78s. Animal behaviorists use the word “imprinting” to describe certain behaviors — Konrad Lorenz had young geese that were imprinted on him as if he was the mother. I am imprinted on the Francescatti/Casadesus interpretation but can enjoy others, Oistrakh among them. Thibaud/Cortot to be sure. Perlman and Ashkenazy, and Josef Suk and Jan Panenka also rank high with me.

      • I know what I mean when I use the term “golden age” in the context of violin playing. Others’ mileage may vary.

        I’d say that the timbre of, and the shaping of a beautiful phrase by, Kreisler, Elman, the young Menuhin, Temianka, Francescatti, and the young Milstein would characterize that golden age. I am leaving both Heifetz and Oistrakh off that list, for different reasons in each case.

        In terms of tone production, it is a matter of opting for a burnished, rounded, harmonically rich tone, with less bow hair on the string and bowing a bit farther away from the bridge (there was a Japanese pedagogue who referred to “the Kreisler highway” in terms of bowing), rather than sacrificing tonal subtlety and richness to get greater dynamics, more projection, and a more incisive high treble.

        When we are talking about violin tone we should be mindful that over the course of time, synthetic strings more and more were being heard on the concert stage, even from soloists, because they were (supposedly) more consistent in dimension and performance up the fingerboard, and stayed in tune better, and projected farther. However, I think that there was a loss of tonal beauty compared to natural gut strings.

        And not to nerd out to the max, in the late-19th/early-20th centuries, violin top E strings were often silk. Steel became the replacement around the time of WWI because the war interrupted silk supplies (naval artillery used silk bags to load the powder charges into the big guns), and because silk strings would not cut acoustical recordings deeply enough.

        So, in terms of dates, I am talking late 19th c. to the coming of “hi-fi” in the early 1950s, but some of the original exponents such as Temianka and Menuhin were active until the 1970s. After that, you have the comparatively rare violinists such as Delmoni who did not go in for the fast-and-loud style I call “chrome-and-tail-fins violin playing.”

        When I speak of golden age phrasing, I mean primarily rubato and portamento; but there’s also the conception of the broader architectural form of the piece, and rhythmic subtlety. All of the golden-age violin Bach recordings I have heard do not have the “modern” peculiarity of over-accentuating two-note phrases to the point that they go “be-BOP!”

        I hope that helps.

      • John Marks may have his own definition. When you listen to Arturo Delmoni, there is a disconnect: you think you are listening to an artist of an earlier age than the recording indicates. Nothing exaggerated or studied, just a natural use of older styles and idioms, and his vibrato is more distinctive than we expect to hear these days.

        Another violinist, perhaps not as well known as Delmoni, who seems to have stepped out of a time warp to make modern sounding stereo recordings, is Vincent Skowronski. There are several examples of his playing on YouTube and I’d suggest his version of an encore associated with Michael Rabin: Seashell by Engel in the Zimbalist transcription.

    • Oh, yes, to Delmoni! Thanks for mentioning him.
      (I’m also partial to Thibaud/Cortot and Oistrakh/Richter.)

  • I haven’t heard that version for a very long time. I had forgotten just how simply brilliant it was.

  • For me, Oistrakh and Oborin also rule in the Beethoven piano-violin sonatas; they exude a joy in the playing that I don’t hear elsewhere.

    Mind you, David Nelson’s remarks on imprinting are very much apropos, and I was nurtured on the Oistrakh-Oborin Beethovens.

    Likewise, going back to the Beethoven 7th: I grew up with the Leinsdorf/Boston SO recording, so it remains special to me. What especially enthralls me about that recording is the way the descending melody in the Trio is handed from trumpet to French horns (IIRC) so seamlessly: no “bump” and hardly a change of timbre. In every other interpretation, I notice the seam and find it distracting…

  • If two Eds are better than one, here’s another vote for Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot, who recorded Franck, Faure, Debussy, and “Kreutzer” sonatas, Chausson’s “Concert” with quartet, and Branenburg Five.

    Rubinstein/Heifetz, Francescatti/Casadesus and Grumiaux with anybne are on my short list. I don’ t want to hear Franck’s sonata too often and never on cello, preferring his “Variations symphonique” (Cortot again) for pf. and orchetra and “Le chausseur maudit” (Muench/BSO).

    • Here we are in agreement again, Edgar, re: your Franck assessment of the situation.
      All the violin recordings you mention are top-drawer.
      I’m not a big fan either of duo sonatas written for one instrument played on another. The Franck sounds simply weird on the ‘cello.
      The two other pieces you mention are marvelous, and I’ve always loved the d minor Symphony. Toscanini’s live NBC version from 1940 just blows my mind in it’s intensity, and I have four Monteux recordings which are practically as wonderful, if differing in details: the old SF Symphony commercial issues (1941 and 1950) and the live “Standard Symphony” (SF Sym in mufti) broadcast of 1946, and the stereo Chicago Symphony version from 1961. “Papa” obviously loved the d minor too!

  • Count your blessings.. Jean-Paul Rampal played Franck’s sonata on flute at a San Francisco recital. TThe ineffable Heuwell Tircuit’s review called it the sort of thing you might hear at a convention of flutists.

    The D-minor symphony is well-covere, from Stokowski’s spoken introduction .. “Diss might be called dee symphonie uv dee mystical and drrream-worrrld … ” to Beecham and two Furtwaenglers. Monteux certainly, unfailingly excellent on anything … Haydn, Beethoven, D’Indy, Debussy, Stravinsky, you name it. But it’s another piece I don’t hear often. “Variations symphonique” I could hear happily every other day, even Michelangeli’s live NYPO in poor sound, but especially Cortot, who is pure magic. It was the first thing I ever heard him play, and I though this is someone who carries his sound with him.

    And, yes, Ed, Cortot’s “Prelude,. Chorale and Fugue” really grand, as is Rubinstein’s. Cortot also recorded “Prelude, Aria & Finale” and another triple-decker for orga that he, transcribed.

    I puzzled over “Sea-Shay” announced on FM until I realized it was “Psyche”.

    Monteux wisunderestimated. He wa also a violist, and once sat in with a quartet in Los Angeles whose Bratsche was ill. that’s workmanlike musicianship that impresses me. I just missed his time in San Francisco, so never saw him live, but the records tell the tale.

    • Monteux was quoted (this may not be exact but I think it is close) “I started out as a violinist and when that got to be difficult, I became a violist. Even that became difficult so I became a conductor. When I can no longer do anything I shall become a critic.”

  • A nice Monteux story, David. You’ve reminded me of something, not for the first time. Germaine Prevost, violist in the pre-war Pro Arte Quartet, closed his career playing viola in the San Francisco Symphony. Monteux may have engaged him. Violists stick togetherm and the Pro Arte were Francophone Belgians. Prevost was a marvelous player, as Pro Arte’s Haydn records show, particularly Op. 20/5 in F minor with the fugal finale.

    TMichael Mann, Thomas’s son, was also in the SFSO viola section around that time. He had taught German literature at UC-Berkeley, but killed himself, I believe while a membwer of the orchestra, as had his elder brother Klaus.

  • pjl’s first post mentions the Franco-Belge violin school, Ferras, Grumiaux, and Francescatti Others: Thibaud, Neveu Charles Muench who was Gewandhaus concertmaster under Furtwaengler, Eugene Ysaye, and the Belgian Queen Elizabeth, who established the prize., and Desire Defauw, briefly conductor of the Chicago Symphony, and very good too.

    Andre Gretry, Andre Cluytens, Pierre Bartholomee, Guillaume Lekeu,and his teacher Cesar Franck were Belgian, and singers Marcel Wittrisch and i think Yvonne Minton or Lubin, no doubt many others. And of course Hercule Poirot and Maurice Maeterlinck.

  • As usual, beautiful playing by King David, but unfortunately Lev Oborin was a much less interesting musician, so the former’s rendition of this piece with Sviatoslav Richter was definitely more satisfying. It would have been good to also have David Oistrakh’s recording of it with the wonderful Frida Bauer who was his preferred accompanist during later part of his life and with whom he was most comfortable.

    • The pianist is Lev Oborin, David Oistrakh’s regular partner, Gilberto, as M2 mentions in a post that crossed yours. The earlier recording with Sviatoslav Richter enjoys a higher standing.

  • dd to the list: Rene Magritte and whoever invented Stella Artois beer and Belgian chocolates, but not together. I tried it only once, offering my infant son a beer milk-shake in jest. A ghastly mistake.

  • This belated comment relates to the Franck sonata, but is not an opinion about the best recording, or about the best instrument on which the piece is played.

    Tom Wolf’s book–The Nightingale’s Sonata. The Musical Odyssey of Lea Luboshutz–has the Franck Sonata as a theme running throughout the story of his grandmother the violinist Lea Luboshutz, and then subsequent generations of her family.

    The rich website for the book

    contains a talk by Tom, interwoven with a complete performance of the Franck sonata:

  • That sounds like the famous duo-pianist of Luboshutz and Nemenoff, Malcolm Kottler. I don’t know the book and will visit that web-site.  But now I’m having doubts as I associate the name Genia with the Luboshutz I’m thinking of.

    • Pierre Luboshutz was the brother on the violinist Lea Luboshutz. Genia Nemenoff was a student of Pierre and then became his wife, the two of them becoming the piano duo you mention.

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