Ginette Nuveu (Studio Recordings) = RICHARD STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18; PARADIES: Sicilienne; RAVEL: Tzigane; CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor (arr. Rodionov); GLUCK: Melodie from Orfeo (arr. Wilhelmj); SUK: Four Pieces, Op.17; TARTINI: Variations on a Theme of Corelli (arr. Kreisler); DINICU: Hora Staccato (arr. Heifetz); FALLA: Danse Espagnole – Ginette Neveu, violin/ Jean Neveu, Gustaf Beck & Bruno Seidler-Winkler, piano – Opus Kura OPK 2109, 76:15 (9/9/14) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Opus Kura assembles a series of studio German Electrola and British HMV recordings, 1938-1948, from the small but remarkable legacy of French violin virtuoso Ginette Neveu (1919-1949), whose talent left us, along with that of her brother Jean, in a tragic plane crash (27 October 1949) in the Azores. Neveu had won the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in 1934 at age fifteen, granting her an extensive touring contract over the next two years that included concerts in Germany, Poland, the USSR, the United States, and Canada. In each venue, audiences and critics celebrated Neveu’s intensity, power, and impeccable sonority. Even after WW II interrupted her career, Neveu regained her original momentum, enhanced by developed musical maturity, and labels like Music & Arts, Tahra, Naxos, and Opus Kura have documented her astonishing virtuosity in the major works she inscribed in her last three years, 1946-1949.
The first selection, the 1939 Richard Strauss Violin Sonata (1887) with Gustaf Beck, reveals an aristocratic conception, exemplary in its high-spun line and innately poignant lyricism. Essentially a love song intended for his future wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna, Strauss invested the work with ardent melodies, brilliant instrumental parts for both participants; and the second movement Improvisation (Andante cantabile) assumes the role of an expansive liebeslied. The last movement begins somewhat lugubriously, but the music then explodes into an Allegro of grandly heroic gestures. Neveu communicates a ravishing but unsentimental forward drive in this music, much as a Gallic version of the Heifetz tradition. As an extension of Neveu’s innate purity of line, proceed directly to her rendition of the Chopin Nocturne, which itself has gained a cult following since the advent of the film The Pianist. The aria from Gluck speaks for itself, since Neveu, too, elicits an iron tear from Pluto’s cheek.
Both the Ravel Tzigane and the Suk Four Pieces became signature works for Neveu, since they appealed to her sense of both character and color in music. The viscerally wrenching attacks she exhibits in Ravel’s solo cadenza – played on a luxurious Stradivarius – give us a strong sense of what she might have communicated in Bach. When she and brother Jean move into the furious gypsy camp, Ginette manages to stamp her individual expressivity and gripping virtuosity on a showpiece we might have been guilty of having taken for granted.
The Four Pieces of Josef Suk (1900) are the result of the composer’s own service in the Czech Quartet. In the Quasi Ballata opening movement, Neveu sounds lyrically subdued at first, only to launch into an impassioned recitative. In the coda Neveu sails in the ether while her brother lays tremolos. In the Appassionato section Neveu demonstrates her ability for inflected rhythmic shifts. Brother Jean shines as much as Ginette in the Un poco triste movement, his part marked arpeggiando, in imitation of harp effects. For unapologetic bravura, we have the Burleska, a series of hurtling sixteenths for both parts, here partners in frisky accelerations of dynamic and askew accents that never cease to delight and startle in their rustic energies. The Neveus obviously love performing this jaw-dropping opus.
The remainder of the program merely confirms the extraordinary gifts possessed of Ginette Neveu and her respective piano collaborators. In Hora Staccato Neveu indeed sounds – given a few personal tempo adjustments – like Heifetz; in the Kreisler arrangement of Falla, Neveu projects a warmth as well as velocity that must endear her to every admirer of masterly violin art. For the novice collector of the art of Ginette Neveu, this quiet remastering of her studio work will do very nicely.