Mark Obert-Thorn revives the first two concerto performances by the youthful master Yehudi Menuhin – still astonishing.
Yehudi Menuhin – The First Concerto Recordings 1931/32 = BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor, Op. 26; ELGAR: Violin Concerto in e minor, Op. 61 – Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ London Sym. Orch./ Sir Landon Ronald & Sir Edward Elgar – Pristine Audio PASC 459. 72:36 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
In an extended note to this historic reissue, Mark Obert-Thorn provides a personal anecdote of his February 1982 meeting with Yehudi Menuhin and their discussions of various musical topics. I, too, must share a recollection that this latest incarnation of the 1909 Elgar Violin Concerto (rec. 14-15 July 1932) evokes, since it was in Atlanta that I heard Menuhin perform this same concerto with conductor Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra prior to my fateful first meeting with him at the Fairmont Hotel. Obert-Thorn remarks on Menuhin’s capacity for articulate communication, much in accord with his written persona in his book Unfinished Journey.
I had seen Dick Cavett interview Yehudi Menuhin on Cavett’s TV show, and I had concluded after a few minutes that Cavett simply didn’t know enough to ask Menuhin important questions. I vowed that I would not so falter. Armed with many LP documents, I met Yehudi Menuhin and proceeded to interview him for the newspaper I represented at the time, Creative Loafing in Atlanta. I recall foremost the rapt attention he gave me: he had a way of arresting his own gaze with such steadfastnesss that I felt as if I had somehow become the most important person he could be listening to at the moment! When I asked him why he had no “current” recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, he candidly confessed that, aside from what he considered an abortive attempt with Boult, he had no ambition to compete with Jascha Heifetz in this piece, stating that in his opinion, the Heifetz was tantamount to the ‘Beethoven Concerto.’ He did, however, vigorously recommend the performance taped with Ferenc Fricsay for their tour captured by DGG.
For those who already possess the Naxos incarnation of this concerto combination, the Pristine may prove redundant. But for the novitiate or the enthusiast, this performance in its latest format carries an urgency that sheds a new light on the authority of the conducting and the precocity of the soloist. The lilting theme of the first movement – presumably meant to celebrate Alice Stuart-Wortley – acquires an uncanny sense of wistful resignation as it moves through a series of sequences likely taken from the example proffered by Brahms in his own concerto. The robust maestoso development seems to pit the orchestra’s frenzy against a consoling violin part, though Menuhin at fifteen certainly can explode passionately when required. The Menuhin violin tone – which conductor Furtwaengler once characterized as ‘the most human’ – never fails to intone a vocal song eminently heart-rending. The coda increases in intensity, a gripping apotheosis in which solo and orchestra strike complementary Olympian sparks.
Few idylls in music can equal the B-flat Major Andante of Elgar’s Concerto in this inscription, although my memory of the mature Menuhin in 1982 in performance casts a valediction quite unique. The entire affect means to be Nobilmente, literally capitalized within the score and declared as Elgar’s intended tombstone epigraph. The young Menuhin achieves the very mode of intimacy that marks his playing through a long and robust career. The enormously expansive last movement, Allegro molto, combines a fantasia sensibility with dervishly challenging bravura figures for the solo, some of which remind me of similar martial filigree in the Busoni Concerto. The dramatic leaps, however, I ascribe once more to the Brahms influence. The grand move here occurs at the novel Cadenza accompagnata: Lento that has Menuhin’s weaving through past melodic tissue – “memories and hopes,” as Elgar put it – while the strings employ a strummed pizzicato tremolando effect. If Elgar intended to express something of Coleridge’s “Aeolian Harp,” he effected it. The lyric past will have its nobilmente utterance once more before Menuhin and Elgar catapult forward, marching to a moral victory. The inscription has been startlingly “present” throughout.
It seems almost counter-intuitive to discuss the 25-26 November 1931 reading of the 1866 Bruch First Concerto, but the fact remains that for Menuhin’s debut in concerto repertory the performance bodes well. The young violinist readily carries the torch of his Enescu pedagogy, with throaty, deeply studied phraseology and lyric outpouring. The seductive charm of the first movement has a powerful advocate in Ronald’s orchestral transition to the Adagio, which Ronald underlines by pregnant pauses within the emerging melodic line. The virtually seamless side joins Obert-Thorn achieves only add to the sheer exotic curve of the expansive song. The last movement Allegro energico enjoys a lushly incisive approach, moving from its dance-motif to the ardent secondary tune that builds up from half steps to a grand peroration. The emotional tenor of the performance, well beyond Menuhin’s tender fifteen years, astounds for the versatility and stamina of a natural wunderkind.