Henri Merckel, v. plays works of HUBEAU, DELANNOY, ST.-SAENS – Dutton

by | Oct 29, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Henri Merckel plays = HUBEAU: Violin Concerto in C; DELANNOY: Serenade Concertante; La Pantoufle de Vair; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61 – Henri Merckel, violin/ Lamoureux Concerts Orchestra/ Eugene Bigot/ Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/ Charles Munch (Delannoy)/ Pasdeloup Concerts Orchestra/ Piero Coppola (Saint-Saens) – Dutton CDBP 9805, 71:23 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] **** :
The French-Belgian school of violin artistry had a fine exponent in Henri Merckel (1897-1969). A pupil of Guillaume Remy and Nadia Boulanger, Merckel cultivated a fine legato tone and subtle portamento on a Nicolo Gagliano instrument. For many years, Merckel spent his career as a first chair in various French orchestral ensembles. Though Merckel made important solo recordings in the mid-1930s, he also recorded during the dark days of Nazi occupation in France, inscribing Gallic repertory dear to his heart and inspiring to his oppressed countrymen. His signature though “sec” B Minor Concerto of Saint-Saens (27 June 1935) with Piero Coppola has been compared favorably to those versions by Grumiaux and Francescatti. The innate chastity and nobility of musical line preserve Merckel’s often impassioned approach for posterity.
Merckel and Eugene Bigot (12-13 May 1942) open the program with the lyrical C Major Concerto of Jean Hubeau (1917-1992), a genial piece written expressly for Merckel in three standard movements and  undemanding harmony. Colorful and light, the music bears a distant similarity to aspects of Bruch and Ibert, jaunty in the main with moments of flirtatiously exotic orchestral hues. The last movement tries hard to become a rollicking tarantella, but it remains rather stiff in the joints, though some riffs remind me of the Korngold Concerto in D. 
Marcel Delannoy (1898-1962) enjoyed some fame as a composer through the efforts of conductor Charles Munch, but his star has certainly faded. Thee twenty-minute Serenade Concertante  (21 July 1941) moves rather idiomatically for the violin, though its content remains strictly that of a light suite in three movements. The scoring near the end of the opening Allegro becomes darkly aggressive for a moment, then abruptly stops. A kind of extended woodwind-string  serenade opens the Andante; and at about two minutes the solo enters with a wistful air over muted strings and harp in exotic colors. The music becomes more impassioned but relents quickly to those wistful, short phrases over mixed woodwind colors and Moorish breezes. Capriccio evokes something of Saint-Saens’ penchant for chorale-themes and tangos at once, but this music lacks his natural melos. A cabaret sensibility insinuates itself, with the solo’s serving as a commentator while the figures become more hectic. As a vehicle for Merckel’s suave style, the piece can be genially effective. To fill out the original shellac set, Munch chose two excerpts from Delannoy’s Cinderella ballet, the Dance of the Little Negroes and Apotheosis, the former of which in a pseudo-Brazilian style provides lithe figures for Merckel’s easy grace.
—Gary Lemco

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