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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Three Violinists play Bach
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041 [15:49] (1)
Double Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043 [16:01] (2)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042 [19:09] (3)
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060 [16:06] (4)
Devy Erlih (violin) (1)(2); Henri Merckel (violin) (2)(3); Reinhold Barchet (violin) (4); Kurt Kalmus (oboe) (4)
Munich Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra/Kurt Redel
rec. mid-1950s by Ducretet Thomson
OPUS KURA OPK7043 [67:49]

Those, including me, who like to step back in time occasionally and listen to some Bach playing from the ‘good old days’, as Takeshi Nakano describes them in his accompanying notes, will find this release right up their street. The recordings were set down in the mid-fifties, and Opus Kura’s first-class, non-interventionist transfers have been sourced from pristine Ducretet Thomson LPs. Forgotten Records has also released these recordings (review).

Devy Erlih was born in Paris in 1928, the son of Moldovan-Jewish immigrants. He inherited his musical gifts from his father who was a folk musician, playing cimbalom and pan-pipes and ran a cafe orchestra. Erlih was a pupil of Jules Boucherit at the Paris Conservatoire. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, but when they resumed he took the Conservatoire’s Première Prix and his international career was launched. He won the Long-Thibaud Competition in 1955. His travels took him around Europe, to the United States and as far afield as Japan. He died tragically on 7 February 2012 when he was fatally hit by a reversing lorry on his way to the École normale de musique, Paris, where he was still teaching.

Henri Merckel (1897-1969) forged a two-pronged career as both an orchestral concertmaster and soloist. For three decades he lead several French orchestras. Despite his musical accomplishments, he never achieved the fame of Jacques Thibaud or Zino Francescatti, two of his French contemporaries. He represented the Franco-Belgian School of violin playing, with its emphasis on tonal beauty and refinement.

The two violinists take a concerto each. Erlih sets the ball rolling with a confident performance of the A minor. Tempi are well-chosen in the first two movements, but the finale could have been more sprightly. The violinist favours a rich, vibrant sound, and his expressive phrasing in the slow movement is particularly alluring. Merckel’s tone in the companion E major lacks the warmth of Erlih, and his sound has something of an edge. Also, I did notice that his intonation strays off the mark on occasion. Nevertheless, the performance is nicely paced and convincing. Both violinists come together for the Double Concerto in D Minor, where their tonal differences are less marked. Outer movements are fleet of foot, and articulation and phrasing is always matched. The slow movement is glorious, with both players blending and savouring the music’s lyricism.

The Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060 features the violinist Reinhold Barchet and oboist Kurt Kalmus. I was rather disappointed with the first movement which is unsmiling and too strait-laced. It also lacks the buoyancy that Menuhin and Goossens bring to it in their EMI recording (review). The other two movements fare much better. The slow movement is a serene dialogue between the two instruments, ardent and heartfelt, yet delivered with graceful simplicity. The finale has plenty of rhythmic vitality. Throughout, both instruments are well-balanced in the sound picture.

Kurt Redel (1918-2013) features in all four concertos directing the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, which he himself founded in 1953. His pliant and authoritative contributions add to the success of the performances.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous release (Forgotten Records): Jonathan Woolf