Menuhin plays Mendelssohn

by | Nov 6, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Menuhin plays Mendelssohn = MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E
Minor, Op. 64; BRAHMS: 2 Hungarian Dances; SARASATE: 2 Spanish Dances,
Op. 21; BAZZINI: Calabrese, Op. 34

Symphony Orchestra of Hollywood/ Antal Dorati/ Adolf Baller, piano/
Antal Dorati, piano (Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 4)
Studio: EuroArts DVD 2054618
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 91 minutes
Rating: ****

Here are some historically rare moments captured on video: the 1947
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto as produced and directed by Paul Gordon ,
“starring” Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) who appears at the Charlie
Chaplin Studios in Hollywood. Menuhin made the film only a few weeks
after his second marriage. Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati leads
members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a few independent musicians
in an elegant, often lyrical version of the concerto. The camerawork is
relatively stilted by today’s standards, simply using mid-shots of
Menuhin and occasional close-up of his hands at the bridge of the
violin, with a pull-back for Dorati’s work with the full orchestra.
There is none of the focus on individual instruments to see how
interior colors evolve. The performance represents one of the earliest
inscriptions we have by Menuhin in the Mendelssohn, since his recording
with Furtwaengler came in the early 1950s, and the earlier Enesco
version was made while Menuhin was barely out of his teens.

The salon pieces seem to have been recorded on at least two different
occasions, since Menuhin plays in and out of his formal concert
clothes. In shirt sleeves Menuhin plays one Sarasate Spanish Dance and
the relatively rare (otherwise unrecorded) Calabrese Waltz by Bazzini,
a spin-off from Wieniawski’s Scherzo-Tarantelle. Menuhin in the ensuing
bonus interview states the window and the palm tree behind him and the
piano are fake. Menuhin avers that the visual aspects are the weakest
part of the film, the angles relatively uninteresting.  Gordon
does have a cameraman stand on a chair to shoot down on him as he plays
the Sarasate. At one point, Gordon places Menuhin behind the piano.
Antal Dorati provides the lively, even arresting accompaniment for the
F# Minor Hungarian Dance, although Dorati is actually visible only near
the end. But Menuhin plays the two Brahms dances in real, gypsy style,
with quick tempos and wicked shifts of registration.

Menuhin, in the 1998 interview with Humphrey Burton, calls Dorati “my
greatest colleague for at least a half-century. We always had fun
together. I even got him his first job in Dallas.” Menuhin speaks of
Adolf Baller as a “thoroughbred” in classical music, a gentle man. “A
wonderful doctor in Vienna restored the use of his hands, which the
Nazis had deliberately broken. After Artur Balsam, Baller was the most
wonderful pianist.” Menuhin speaks of Charlie Chaplin with affection,
“a touching, tragic, humorous, wonderful character.” Menuhin carried
Chaplin’s picture as a young man. Menuhin speaks with humility of his
early return to Germany almost immediately after the war, to return to
the Germans the legacy of their music and that of others.  Burton
pushes the issue of the Jewish community’s resentment of Menuhin’s
return to Germany so soon after the Holocaust. Menuhin says “it was not
so lethal,” although a contretemps in a concentration camp remains with
him. “How easily a single person can influence others; yet the whole
group may be turned by another in a quarter of an hour. . .It’s all
about the manipulation of ‘righteous vengeance,’ which some people
exploit for their own benefit.”

The interview is periodically interrupted by the film of the
Mendelssohn Concerto, which Burton wants to insist was part of a
general feeling of optimism that reigned in 1947; that people were more
ready for classical music. Menuhin remains cool on this point,
suggesting that the Cold War was already displacing the post-war
euphoria; a more “global awareness was both hopeful and frightening.”
The making of the film might prove a popular approach, but “it was
probably too early for its time.” Menuhin muses about music as “a
collective feeling. . .something Glenn Gould would rather have died
than to admit.” Menuhin suggests that music films would have to be
“greater works of art” to be compelling for audiences; but the
“musician is playing for himself. The criteria may or may not be
understood by the audience. Menuhin recalls “Stage Canteen,” a
sentimental film which to him had extramusical values for which he had
little sympathy. Menuhin considers Mendelssohn “not a Jewish composer
at all,” when queried whether he finds a Jewish ethos in the second
movement. Riveting and rare moments, from the musician who Furtwaengler
called “the most human of violinists.”

–Gary Lemco

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