Classical Reissue Reviews

“Menuhin in Moscow” = BACH: Adagio from Solo Sonata No. 1; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto – Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ Hephzibah Menuhin, piano/ USSR State Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Melodiya

Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin scored an artistic and ‘political’ triumph in Moscow 1962, playing a combination of chamber and full concert music.

Published on January 7, 2013

“Menuhin in Moscow” = BACH: Adagio from Solo Sonata No. 1; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto – Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ Hephzibah Menuhin, piano/ USSR State Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Melodiya

Menuhin in Moscow” = BACH: Adagio from Solo Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 – Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ Hephzibah Menuhin, piano/ USSR State Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Melodiya MEL CD 10 01518, 72:44 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), forever the humanitarian and world ambassador for the power of music, first toured the Soviet Union in 1945, directly after the end of WW II. In 1962, Menuhin had his sister, pianist Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981) with him, and they performed sonatas by Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, and Bartok. Melodiya, in unusually poignant sound, presents a combination of evenings from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

Menuhin opens solo in the Adagio movement from Bach’s G Minor Sonata, a sustained, polyphonic cantilena of significant power and authority. Even for a conventional slow movement, the potent double stops and vocalized trills make the occasion dramatically noteworthy.  The microphone placement seems quite close, enough to allow us to hear Menuhin’s breathing at major period or registration shifts.

Hephizibah Menuhin then adds her distinguished keyboard talent to the 1887 D Minor Sonata of Brahms, dedicated to Hans von Bulow. The turbulence of the opening statement in the Allegro yields to a studied, eloquent expression of the theme in F Major. A nervous inwardness permeates the reading, an introspection we could attribute either to the Schumann influence or the Menuhins’ interior passion. At the recapitulation, Yehudi suffers a slight intonation slip. The plaintive quality of his instrument, however, more than compensates for any technical lapse. Hephzibah has a tendency to thrust her scales forward, an emotional emphasis that, coupled with Yehudi’s natural aggression, creates a hothouse effect. The D Major Adagio proves quite moving, a studied cavatina for the violin with the piano in a secondary role. Yehudi Menuhin emphasizes each modulation of the harmonic development with some alteration of bow pressure or expressive gesture. When the music moves to a Lydian mode, the effect has a haunted nostalgia about it.

Hephzibah makes her presence felt in the latter two movements: first, in the flirtatious Un poco presto, in which she shimmers and glides in a passionate F-sharp Minor. Nothing precious in this potent evocation of sweet dalliance! The last movement, Presto agitato, assumes the character of a stormy tarantella.  Explosive from the outset, the Menuhins project sweep and devotion, especially in Hephzibah’s statement of the second subject, rather martial in tenor. Each successive entry of the main D Minor theme becomes more massive, more insistent. Even the development section, which fragments the dance tune, haunts us with reserves of potential energy that unleash most vehemently and obviously appeal to the Russian souls in attendance, who applaud with their own magnanimity of feeling.

The Beethoven Violin Concerto remained a vital component on Yehudi Menuhin’s repertory almost from the beginning of his illustrious career, when he played it in Paris and New York in 1927.  With Russian conducting wizard Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), Menuhin has a responsive ensemble as emotionally charged as he, virtually on a par with the more esteemed performances Menuhin made with German legend Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Excessive sweetness characterizes Menuhin’s contribution, while a devout muscularity of expression comes from Svetlanov. Still, the grueling half steps and sudden propulsions in scale and exalted lyricism testify to a long experience on the part of our soloist, and his innate sympathy with this music remains fluent and expressively honest. Nothing academic in the expansive performance asserts itself: the reading has the exploratory vitality of a well-honed yet spontaneous response to an epic score. Lovely woodwinds mark the USSR Symphony’s contribution, a clearly resonant complement to exalted string lines and a mighty tympani part.  Menuhin’s realization of the Kreisler cadenza, too, warrants recognition for its unbridled commitment.

A solemn, religious hymn, the Larghetto in G has both Menuhin and his Russian complement in rapt harmony, the USSR horns and winds in virile sonority. Menuhin’s flute tone, acute and penetratingly sweet, has its equal in the bassoon and suspended strings. The Menuhin vibrato informs every note of the rising scale, each articulated like individual pearls on a warm magical string. The final Rondo: Allegro combines urgency, passion, and humor in a gorgeous alchemy of athletic musicianship, not the least of which belongs to a volatile Yehudi Menuhin, ably supported by an inspired orchestra well aware of the momentousness of the occasion.

—Gary Lemco

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