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CD: Nilla Pierrou

Nilla Pierrou & en Stradivarius 
see end of review for track listing
Nilla Pierrou (violin)
Eugène De Canck (piano) (CD 1 tr. 6; CD 2 tr. 1 - 15; CD 3 Tr. 1-2, 12, 16)
Lucia Negro (piano) (CD 3 tr. 3)
Lilian Carlson-Nyqvist (piano) (CD 3 tr. 7)
Eva Pierrou (piano) (CD 3 tr. 8)
Roel Dieltiens (cello) (CD 3 tr. 4-6 & 13-15)
Orchestre Symphonique de la R.T.B, Brussels/René Defossez (CD 1 tr. 1-4)
Het Filh.Orch. van de VRT/Silveer Van den Broeck (CD 1 tr. 7-9)  
rec. 1974 - 1993
OAK GROVE CD 2027 [3 CDs: 74:50 + 78:28 + 78:29]

Experience Classicsonline

Swedish violinist Nilla Pierrou has had a long and successful international career as soloist, chamber musician and teacher. Of special importance was her long relationship with André Gertler. He was Hungarian by birth and a student of Zoltan Kodaly and Jenö Hubay. He was also a friend and concert partner with Béla Bartók and also, having settled in Brussels in 1928, studied with Eugene Ysaÿe. There are threads back to all these in this comprehensive box with - mostly - live recordings across two decades. 
Ms Pierrou retired from the concert stage a couple of years ago and settled in the little town of Rättvik on Lake Siljan in central Sweden, having lived for many years in Brussels. Hearing one of her last performances I thought it was a shame that we would no longer be able to hear her elegant phrasing, her perfect intonation and her beautiful tone. This box, with close to four hours of music, arrived as a gift from Heaven! And it is not just another violin recital with all the expected standard numbers. I believe that many a jaded violin addict will also raise an eyebrow - or even both - when reading the table of contents: ‘Hubay, when did I last see his name on a record sleeve, Söderlundh, whoever is that (Swedish readers will know), Kersters, never heard of, Legley, no idea, Aulin, wasn’t he a friend of Wilhelm Stenhammar?
I know the other names, naturally, and Grieg’s third sonata is a standard work but I wonder when I last heard Janáček’s sonata, or the sonatina by Bartók - isn’t that a piano piece?’ In other words, the table of contents was mouth-watering, so I set to work with my Walkman and brand new earphones during a coach ride across large tracts of central Sweden.
The first thing I noted was the excellent sound: wide dynamic range, well balanced and with a lot of detail in the orchestral pieces. Pierrou’s tone is caught in all its beauty. Her technical accomplishment was also well known to me and it came as no surprise that everything sounds so easy, although I know very well how much fastidious work and rehearsal lies behind all this.
Hubay’s third concerto is late-romantic - four movements played attacca. The opening is rather rhapsodic, the scherzo, lively and virtuosic, the long adagio has a decided Hungarian flavour in the opening tutti while the beautiful theme presented by the solo violin might just as well emanate from Dvořák. The concluding movement is dramatic and virtuosic. This is definitively music to return to.
There follows an interview with journalist Seth Karlsson who was a close friend of Lille Bror Söderlundh. In the interview he recalls Lille Bror’s work on the violin concerto. The telephone rang and he was told that his friend Stig Dagerman, successful author, had died. Söderlundh interrupted his work and when he resumed it he cut off the violin mid-phrase, the life-nerve of the music and wrote a section for two flutes. He used to point at this detail in the score and say: “Stig died here!” Nilla Pierrou played this movement with piano accompaniment but I would urge readers to try to get hold of the only existing recording of the concerto, still available on a Caprice CD, coupled with Hilding Rosenberg’s concerto. The music is permeated by influences from Béla Bartók. Seth Karlsson told me several times how he and Lille Bror could sit all night long listening to Bartók’s music.
Let me add that Lille Bror Söderlundh was the one who discovered Nilla’s exceptional talent when the family moved to Borlänge, where Söderlundh was head of the municipal music school. This year is the 100th since he was born and there will be celebrations and memorial concerts in the region.
Nilla Pierrou and Willem Kersters were colleagues at the Conservatorium Maastricht. One day when they were having dinner together Nilla asked if he would write a concerto for her; which he did. The solo part was however not excitingly difficult so Nilla asked for help from André Gertler to improve it. Gertler was by then blind but he sang his suggestions for improvements and Nilla wrote it down and forwarded it to Kersters.
It is a long concerto, almost 40 minutes, but it is constantly fascinating and stimulating. The outer movements are powerful, energetic, and especially the concluding Allegro molto is rhythmically thrilling and rather nervy. The central Andante is a kind of elegy, the violin part very cantabile.
The second disc makes its take-off at around 1800 with Haydn’s F Major sonata. This is in fact Haydn’s last completed string quartet - minus the minuet. Whether the sonata is Haydn’s own work or his publisher’s, Ignaz Pleyel, is a moot point, but whoever made the transcription it works excellently in its new disguise. Pleyel was a former pupil of Haydn and a prolific composer in his own right with among other things 70 string quartets to his credit. The strolling slow movement is charming and the fast, whirling finale brings the composition to a riveting end.
Grieg’s C minor sonata, completed in 1887, lays claim to be his best chamber work. The composer was then in his mid-40s and had gone through a crisis in his marriage. This may be mirrored in the dark and dramatic sonata. The slow movement is like a Norwegian folk-song and in the finale at least this listener hears Norwegian trolls dancing and capering. This is marvellous music and it is marvellously played.
The four brief pieces Op. 7 by Anton Webern were written no more than about three decades after the Grieg sonata but here we are in a totally different musical landscape. Grieg, however marked he was by the crisis, is firmly rooted in a rural national romantic landscape, ebullient in a way. Webern is, by contrast, an indoor character - the windows are closed and the blinds down. One even feels that the ventilation is cut off. In the slow movements the music breathes only laboriously, and the fast movements are at best spasmodic. Webern’s asceticism is captivating but elusive.
Janáček’s sonata is roughly contemporaneous with the Webern. But the two are worlds apart. Janáček is also, like Grieg, autobiographical in this sonata, but not on a personal plane. Rather his writing is nationalistic - the expectancy concerning the possible downfall of the Habsburg Empire and the independence of the Czechs. The second movement, Ballade, breathes peace and calm while the surrounding movements are more or less agitated with jagged rhythms and dissonances relieved by some lyric episodes. As usual Janáček is rather unpredictable: the final Adagio is primarily a meditation but it is punctuated now and then by sudden exclamations from the violin. Bartók’s first sonata is contemporaneous with the revised version of the Janáček. The Adagio is played here very beautifully but with some restraint, which I find wholly convincing.
Bartók’s Rhapsody No 1 is more earthbound, more directly related to the Hungarian roots. The liner-notes mention Liszt’s rhapsodies and while they are not siblings they are at least first cousins. Bartók’s stew has more Magyar seasoning - here is both paprika and garlic. 
Ysaÿe’s Rêve d’enfant has a melodic sweetness that in lesser violinist hands could be dangerously diabetic. Pierrou keeps the sentimentality on rather strait reins. There’s no exaggerated portamenti but deep commitment in its stead. A noble reading. Legley, Belgian like Ysaÿe and Kersters, was previously unknown to me. This little duo is written in relatively modern idiom but melodically and harmonically accessible. It has a striking final movement, the first half of which is marked tutto pizzicato, followed by contrapuntal second half. Entertaining and jazzy!
Ernest Bloch was, in his day, the foremost representative of Jewish music. He often built his compositions around ancient Hebrew themes. Nigun, the second movement from the suite Baal Shem, was quite often heard in the good old days. I remember a 78 rpm record on Columbia with a young Isaac Stern. Nilla Pierrou plays it here with a glow that would make even Stern envious, and Kreisler would have admired her double-stops.
Another star violinist from earlier times was Mischa Elman. He was a child prodigy and appeared in Stockholm in 1905, aged 14. Tor Aulin, one of the central characters in Swedish music life around the turn of the previous century wrote his Four Pieces Op. 16 the following year for Elman, who often played Aulin’s character pieces, at least the somewhat earlier Lullaby. Aulin was a violinist himself. He ran his own string quartet and championed new chamber music. His third violin concerto must also count among the finest Swedish works in this genre. The two pieces presented here are really lovely and my only regret is that there wasn’t room for all of them in this collection.
Back to Bartók and his Sonatina for piano from 1915. About ten years later the 17-year-old André Gertler arranged the work for violin and piano. When they had played through it Bartók seemed depressed and Gertler asked: ‘Was it that bad?’ ‘On the contrary,’ Bartok said, but I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t write it this way from the beginning. This is so much better!’ He even used Gertler’s version when he orchestrated the work a few years later. I have known the Sonatina in its original version for ages but had never heard Gertler’s arrangement, and I think I must agree with Bartók.
Zoltán Kodály was a versatile cultural personality in Hungary as pedagogue, linguist, musicologist and composer. His opera Háry János is something of a national opera and Dances from Galánta one of the most colourful orchestral works from the inter-war years. In his youth he also wrote some chamber music and the two works presented here are fine examples. The adagio is beautiful but it is the duo that is a major composition. I heard it many years ago in London but didn’t manage to find a recording of it then. It is well crafted and deeply moving.
As a lovely little encore Pierrou rocks us to sleep with Aulin’s Lullaby, music that feels like a mild and light Nordic summer night.
In the enclosed booklet she writes charmingly about her life and career. There are excellent notes to the music and the artists by Christer Eklund, who made the transfers, the editing and the layout. He is also the producer of the box on his own label Oak Grove, which is a literal translation of his family name.
Nilla Pierrou had a long and successful solo career and she made a number of exquisite commercial recordings, not least Wilhelm Peterson-Berger’s Violin Concerto, recorded when she was only twenty. It is available on CD on Phono-Suecia PSCD95 - originally on Swedish EMI LP CSDS 1083. The present box adds a lot to the picture of her and should be an obligatory purchase for all those who have heard her in the flesh - but also those who haven’t - for the playing as well as the repertoire.
Göran Forsling

Track listing
CD 1 [74:50]
Jenö HUBAY (1858 - 1937)
Violin Concerto No. 3 G minor Op. 99 (1906 - 1907)
1. I. Introduction quasi Fantasia. Moderato. Allegro moderato [6:26]
2. II. Scherzo .Presto [4:28]
3. III. Adagio [10:05]
4. IV. Finale. Allegro con fuoco [8:35]
5. Interview with Seth Karlsson (1985) [3:41]
Lille Bror SÖDERLUNDH (1912 - 1957)
from Concerto per violino ed orchestra (1954)
6. II. Intermedio a parte [2:45]
Willem KERSTERS (1929 - 1998)
Violin Concerto Op.86 (1989, dedicated to Nilla Pierrou)
7. I. Allegro [16:18]
8. II. Andante [11:49]
9. III. Allegro molto [10:21]
CD 2 [78:28]
Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Sonata F Major for violin and piano
1. I. Allegro moderato [7:09]
2. II. Andante [6:28]
3. III. Finale. Vivace assai [5:23]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 - 1907)
Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano, C Minor Op. 45 (1886 - 1887)
4. I. Allegro molto ed appassionato [8:45]
5. II. Allegro espressivo alla Romanza [7:17]
6. III. Allegro animato [6:44]
Anton WEBERN (1883 - 1945)
4 Pieces Op. 7 for violin and piano (1910/1914/1922)
7. I. Sehr langsam [1:08]
8. II. Rasch [1:47]
9. III. Sehr langsam [1:32]
10. IV. Bewegt [1:02]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854 - 1928)
Sonata for violin and piano (1914 - 1915, rev. 1915 - 1921)
11. I. Con moto [5:37]
12. II. Ballada; Con moto [5:33]
13. III. Allegretto [2:34]
14. IV. Adagio [5:25]
Béla BARTÓK (1881 - 1945)
from Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano, BB 84 (1921)
15. II. Adagio [11:24]
CD 3 [78:29]
Rhapsody No. 1 for violin and piano, BB 94 a (1928)
1. I. Lassú [4:42]
2. II. Friss [5:23]
Eugène YSAŸE (1858 - 1931)
3. Rêve d’enfant Op. 14 [4:52]
Victor LEGLEY (1915 - 1994)
Duo for violin and cello, Op. 101
4. I. Allegro commodo [2:45]
5. II. Andante doloroso [4:09]
6. III. Allegro (tutto pizzicato). Molto vivo [2:44]
Ernest BLOCH (1880 - 1959)
7. Nigun from Baal Shem-suite (1923) [6:57]
Tor AULIN (1866 - 1914)
8. Barcarole from Four Pieces Op. 16 (1906) [5:00]
Béla BARTÓK/André GERTLER (1907 - 1998)
Sonatin for violin & piano (1915/1924)BB 102 a
9. I. Bagpipe blower [1:31]
10. II. Bear Dance [1:00]
11. III. Finale [2:05]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882 - 1967)
12. Adagio for violin & piano (1905) [7:10]
Duo for violin & cello, Op. 7 (1914)
13. I. Allegro serioso, non troppo [8:51]
14. II. Adagio [8:05]
15. III. Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento; Presto [8:23]
16. Lullaby from Four Watercolours (1899) [3:43]














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