In Memoriam Ginette Neveu = Works of BRAHMS, BEETHOVEN, SIBELIUS, CHAUSSON & interview – Tahra

by | Apr 6, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

In Memoriam Ginette Neveu = Interview; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D: Movements II-III; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major: Movements II-III; CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op .47: Movements II-III – Ginette Neveu, violin/SouthWest Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud (Beethoven)/NWDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (Brahms)/New York Philharmonic/Charles Munch (Chausson)/Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind (Sibelius)

Tahra TAH 684, 74:53 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The date October 29, 1949 was a black day for music, when the airplane carrying French virtuoso violinist Ginette Neveu (1919-1949) and her brother Jean (and boxing champion Marcel Cerdan) crashed en route to America. She was to reunite with conductor Charles Munch in New York to begin her American tour. An astonishing accuracy of technique and impassioned commitment to her repertory marked the Neveu style. Even in her brief interview, the desire to share her music–in this case Suk’s Op. 17, No. 4–permeates her discussion, in which she can hardly refrain from taking up her beloved Stradivarius, which perished with her in the fateful crash. The complete Beethoven Concerto was first issued on CD in 1982 by Music & Arts and reedited in 1994.


Neveu mentions Samuel Barber as a modern American stylist whose music has impressed her. She elaborates on Suk’s derivatives from Dvorak and the Czech tradition. Tahra kindly or unkindly provides us four excerpted examples of Neveu’s ardent, even blistering, style, opening with the Larghetto and Rondo from the Beethoven Concerto with Rosbaud. A hushed mysticism infuses the Larghetto, almost a G Major prayer in variations. The performance has the power of inner solitude, a communion a deux, between Neveu and her Rosbaud-led ensemble. Neither taut like Thibaud or lilac-sweet like Francescatti, Neveu’s approach enjoys a simple fervor, the craft completely exposed. Her own brief cadenza takes to the spit-and-polish Rondo, wherein Neveu’s part is all gentleness and canny elegance. But do not underestimate Neveu’s capacity for rasping drive, especially in her final cadenza, which whips forward a la Milstein. The affect well resembles the Apollinian cast that Oistrakh and Cluytens achieved in their later version.

Another astonishing paean to music opens the Adagio of the Brahms Concerto from Hamburg (3 May 1948), the oboe in command. This rendition is one of four we have from Neveu, and it well commands respect as the most lyrically, passionately invested, aided by Schmidt-Isserstedt’s prominent sympathies. Neveu brings her vocalized style to the fore, but there is besides much subtlety and nuance in the extension of the line, soft dynamics and degrees of rubato that illuminate the arch she creates. The sheer mania of Neveu’s vision erupts in the Rondo, where a decidedly gypsy flair marks her attacks and sizzling runs and scales, the drive gathering increasing momentum as it mounts to the final pages.

The 1896 Chausson Poeme (2 January 1949) testifies to the complete artistic unity of mind Neveu shared with Munch, who would have engaged Neveu for infinitely more concerts. Dreamy, impassioned, languorous, the performance moves in aromatic waves, set to Symbolist lines wrought by Ivan Turgenev, “The Song of Triumph Love.” The strictly solo episodes enjoy all of the resonance of a Bach sonata, while the orchestra chants in Eastern modalities of perfumed pleasures.  Chausson himself disowned any program, claiming there was only “sensation” to be gleaned from his chromatic figures, but we see our own tragic longing–in those final descending trills–for Neveu in these tender pages.


The EMI Sibelius Concerto with Walter Susskind (22 November 1945) had a prior issue on the Dutton label. Neveu’s approach proves stately and studied but curiously unemotional, given her fervent temperament. Neveu seems intent upon architecture and soft lines, at least in the B-flat Adagio di molto. The integration of the solo part with the orchestral tissue gives us the impression of a sinfonia concertante rather than a full-blown concerto proper. The last movement “polonaise for polar bears” accesses the divine rapture in Neveu, although the manic banshee remains suppressed.  Still, the ardor of the music and the fervor of participation certify a flawless technique and a classically chiseled realization of Sibelius’ intentions. Composer Henri Sauguet called Neveu’s death: a “divine abduction.”  

–Gary Lemco


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