Ginette Neveu, Violin: En Amérique – Concerto Works by Beethoven, Chausson, Ravel – Pristine Classical

by | May 12, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; CHAUSSON: Poème, Op. 25; RAVEL: Tzigane -Ginette Neveu, violin/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Serge Koussevitzky, cond./ New York Philharmonic Orchestra/ Charles Munch, cond. – Pristine PASC 630 (77:17) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****: 

As recording engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn dutifully notes, this release brings together the known, recorded American broadcast performances of French violin virtuoso Ginette Neveu (1919-1949). Her tragic death in an airplane crash in the Azores deprived music of an especially rare talent, whom Eugene Ormandy called “one of the greatest interpreters on the violin of our time.” Most commanding in her technical arsenal, her ultimate gift lay in her projection of an unfolding, musical line realized as one breath, one organic, plastic idea that pulsates with passion and conviction. No less significant in this first release, Serge Koussevitzky appears with his Boston Symphony (23 December 1947) in the Beethoven Concerto, which he had never recorded commercially with RCA. 

Anyone can access the official Neveu biographies that recall her early prowess and her amazing victory at the 1935 inaugural Wieniawski Competition. But if you wish immediate proof, listen to the end of Neveu’s first movement cadenza in Beethoven, where the orchestra slips back, and together, they move to an exquisitely wrought coda. The purity of Neveu’s line, its nobility of focus, speaks for itself. The Boston audience erupts in sustained, full knowledge of what they’ve just heard.

That same transparency and fluidity informs every note of the ensuing Larghetto, its theme and variations having become a love-letter between Neveu and the Boston Symphony. In the “dry” moments of orchestral accompaniment, Neveu projects a tender intimacy whose chastity belies its intensity. The Rondo finale realizes both playfulness and imposing depth of emotion. The BSO tympani seems intent to make Neveu know his presence, as he had in the first movement. The biting nature of Neveu’s attacks, the ability to nuance her shifts in register and bowing, attest a musical maturity comparable to or even surpassing the more established masters. Gidon Kremer, whom Herbert von Karajan once touted as “the greatest violinist in the world,” pays full homage to Ginette Neveu in his constant quest for the “perfect Beethoven Violin Concerto. He thought he’d finally found it in the 1949 recorded performance from Baden-Baden with Neveu and Hans Rosbaud, what Kremer characterized as “not just a display of instrumental capacities at the highest level [but one] that was completely devoid of narcissism.” When you listen to those closing tones from Neveu’s Stradivarius and the BSO woodwinds, you hear a radiant harmony meant for the gods. 

The New York concert (2 January 1949) opens just after the intermission, Neveu’s stepping to the stage with Charles Munch for the 1897 Poème of Chausson. Both this performance and that of the Ravel Tzigane have been available prior on the Music & Arts label. Neveu’s lyrical playing of this impassioned work makes us recall that Chausson took inspiration form the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, whose The Song of Love Triumphant becomes a balletic meditation often in blistering accents and late Romantic harmony. Pablo Casals, among many with glowing testimonials to Neveu after her untimely death, best describes the impact of her Chausson: “To the impression of perfection, balance, and artistic taste, she added in her interpretation, fire, and abandon which filled her playing with richness.”

Neveu and Munch conclude with Maurice Ravel’s 1924 Concert-Rhapsody, Tzigane, conceived for another great lady of the violin, Jelly d’Aranyi (1893-1966), who had indulged Ravel with a night of gypsy music in 1922. This explosive piece in Hungarian Gypsy style has the harp as deeply involved as Neveu’s wicked Stradivarius in harmonics. The dazzling array of effects, improvisatory and spitefully seductive, elicit from Neveu and Munch a potent moment in the annals of Carnegie Hall, and I like to imagine the walls still vibrate and bristle with the energy of a decisive collaboration. Charles Munch contributed his own response to Neveu’s passing: “…each time that by the grace of God we are able to make music really well, we shall feel you very close to us.”

—Gary Lemco

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