Jacques Thibaud plays French Music = LALO: Symphonie Espagnole in D Minor; CHAUSSON: Poeme; SAINT-SAENS: Havanaise in E Major; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor – Jacques Thibaud. Violin/conductors: Ansermet/Bigot/Monteux – Opus Kura

by | Jul 19, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Jacques Thibaud plays French Music = LALO: Symphonie Espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21; CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25; SAINT-SAENS: Havanaise in E Major, Op. 83; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, Op. 28 – Jacques Thibaud. Violin/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Ernest Ansermet (Lalo)/ Lamoureux Orchestra/Eugene Bigot (Chausson)/ San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Havanaise)/ Tasso Janopoulo, piano (Intro)

Opus Kura 2082, 64:11 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

From Opus Kura a selection of French violin works performed by master Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953), robbed from us by a plane crash as he was en route to Japan–with a stopover in Saigon–when his aircraft collided with Mount Cemet near Nice. Along with the lives of the other 46 passengers, the world also lost Thibaud’s gorgeous 1720 Stradivarius. The recordings, 1939-1947, capture Thibaud primarily in the concert hall, where he could easily mesmerize audiences with his especial sound. The Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, from 1939, was recorded by a London enthusiast from a Paris air check and survived as an extended-play 78 rpm.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (in the four-movement suite) provided a Thibaud staple: five versions exist, in relative degrees of preservation: we have here the 1941 collaboration with Ernest Ansermet. Collectors may know the 1947 Lalo with Stokowski; there is a 1953 reading with Martinon; and the rarest, in poorest shape: a 1951 realization with Atualfo Argenta. Tahra offers–as a supplement to the present set–a Lalo from March 1951 with Winfried Zillig (TAH 499/500). We note immediately the purity of Thibaud’s attacks, his idiomatic Spanish sympathy, feathery pizzicati in the left hand, his open-string work and occasional harmonics. His reedy, nasal tone well resembles that of Szigeti, but Thibaud’s enjoys better digital security. A “weeping” quality suffuses Thibaud’s sound, a quality I can hear in young Menuhin. Thibaud’s vibrato is fast and tight, especially on the G string; his bowing is light, easy, fluent. Elegant and poetic, the Thibaud style projects a sense of tragedy: the Fall of France and the death of his soldier son never left him. In the secondary tune of the whiplash Scherzo (Allegro molto), we can hear that touch of sadness for a by-gone age. Short, breathed phrases mark the Andante, an intimate dirge of unaffected power. The last movement conveys a drive and an incendiary set of attacks that rivet us to the festive, even wild figurations. We are barely aware the performance is live until the audience shrieks with pleasure.

The Chausson Poeme has had many fine realizations, from Heifetz to Perlman, Neveu to Milstein. Collectors may know that a Kreisler version with Dr. Frank Black exists. Thibaud made this work, after Ysaye and Enescu, very much his own romantic vehicle. His ability to alter his vibrato makes the performance mandatory auditioning; just listen to his B-flat entry. Bigot (rec. 1947), too often a lackluster interpreter for me, here provides a measure of quiet mystery that suits Thibaud perfectly. The cadenza passages suggest elements from Paganini and Ysaye. The tympani part sounds distant, but the rising period–in the manner of a sea-borne fantasia–walks on a tightrope, given Thibaud’s long thin melodic line. Some surface wear intrudes into the middle of the restoration, but the fine threads of the performance maintain their luster, an almost religious intensity.

Thibaud joins his old (viola) classmate Pierre Monteux for the suave Havanaise from 1947 San Francisco. Thibaud’s tone is less secure here, likely the result of his slack approach to practice. But the basic Cuban sultriness is there, along with several explosive moments as violin and orchestra cascade to the secondary tune. The last pages must have been played on fireproof instruments, since rarely have I heard the Havanaise smolder. The interplay of violin and tympani beats at the coda is exquisitely charming.

Finally, the Introduction et Rondo capriccioso of Saint-Saens, the great bravura piece for everyone from Stern to Francescatti, Oistrakh to Rabin. In appalling condition, the salvaged 78 rpm yet delivers authentic Thibaud – light, pert, witty, and eminently secure in his (20 March 1939) trills, double stops, and shifts in registration. Thibaud’s rubato pays the price of admission. The ascription of the piano part to Tanno Janopoulo may be apocryphal, but the pianist–despite the distance and lack of sonorous definition–stays right with Thibaud and responds to every ritard, every long-held note.  Beautiful slides from Thibaud, and the peroration to the coda–stolen from the Mendelssohn Concerto–projects a poise and stamina that defy easy categorization. A splendid document, if not always the “perfect” restoration.

— Gary Lemco



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