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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 [29:16]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 [21:30]
Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 [9:02]
Michèle Auclair (violin)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Woss
Austrian Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Loibner (Bruch)
rec. early 1950s

Michèle Auclair was born in Paris in 1924 and began studying the violin at the age of six. She was reared in a musical environment, her father and grandfather being, not only amateur musicians, but also painters. It was in this artistically nurturing environment that her prodigious talent was cultivated. Her first teacher was Line Talluel, who also taught Ginette Neveu. She then went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jules Boucherit, Jacques Thibaud and Boris Kamensky. She was a prize-winner of the first Marguerite Long – Jacques Thibaud Competition in 1943. In 1946 she won first prize in the Geneva International Competition. From then on her career took off. After the war, Auclair travelled to the USA for further studies with Theodore and Alice Pashkus in New York. Sadly, in the mid-sixties, Auclair was involved in an automobile accident which put paid to her career as a soloist. She devoted the rest of her life to teaching and supporting young violinists both at the National Conservatory of Music in Paris (1969-1989) and at the New England Conservatory in Boston (1989-2002). She died in Paris on 10 June 2005, aged eighty.

It was Theodore Pashkus who introduced the young violinist to the record producer Don Gabor. He engaged her to make some recordings for the Remington label. In 1950 came her first recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the conductor Kurt Wöss. The Bruch Concerto and Kol Nidrei followed later. These recordings have been issued on CD in Japan on the elusive Green Door label; in my experience, impossible to source in the West. It will be a joy to violin enthusiasts, like myself, that Forgotten Records have now made these available. It is disappointing, however, that the six Kreisler pieces Auclair recorded with the pianist Otto Schulhof, also for Remington, were not included.

The Tchaikovsky Concerto we have here is considerably different to the re-make Auclair made for Philips in February 1963 with the Innsbruck State Symphony Orchestra under Robert Wagner. Whilst the sound quality of the later recording is less coarse, the overall performance doesn’t possess the same freshness and spontaneity of this earlier reading. The violin sound captured by the Remington engineers is more brightly profiled. Auclair injects more fire, passion and youthful exuberance. The later Philips is uninspired and lacklustre by comparison. The only aspect of the earlier performance I take exception to are the savage cuts in the finale, which knock a good two minutes off the Philips timing.

In the Bruch Concerto, Auclair is in the capable hands of Wilhelm Loibner, who provides sympathetic support. Again there is much verve and vigour in the performance. I notice that the violinist isn’t averse to an expressive slide or two when the line merits it. Technically accomplished double-stops and immaculate intonation are a distinctive feature. The lyrical sections, of which there are many in this concerto, are ardently executed.

Whilst I’ve come across several performances of Kol Nidrei on viola, this is the first time I’ve heard the violin take centre-stage. In the opening measures Auclair draws a powerful rich sonority from the G string, emulating the cello, for which the piece was originally written. The violinist is forwardly positioned, and the orchestra somewhat recessed, a drawback as the orchestral writing is sumptuous and displays a distinctive individual voice. Yet, Auclair’s projection of the instrumental line is idiomatic and confidently assured.

The Remington LPs from which these recordings were taken name the orchestra in both cases as being the Austrian Symphony Orchestra, although the CD cover designates the Vienna Symphony Orchestra to the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

This release should be enthusiastically taken up by lovers of great violin playing heard here in recordings that have otherwise long since become unavailable.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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