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Jean HUBEAU (1917-1992)
Violin Concerto in C major (1939) [23:41]
Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1973)
Violin Concerto (1932) [18:05]
Henry Merckel (violin)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française / Henri Tomasi
rec. 12 January 1953 (Malipiero), 5 December 1955 (Hubeau), Paris

Henri Merckel (1897-1969) was a fine example of the Franco-Belgian School of violin playing, with beauty of tone and elegant refinement being paramount. For three decades he led several French orchestras, but also had a parallel career as a soloist, notching up a reasonable-sized discography along the way. The two radio broadcasts we have here were taped between 1953-1955, with the violinist in both concertos partnered by the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française under the composer/conductor Henri Tomasi. We are fortunate to have a studio recording of the Hubeau Concerto for comparison, which the violinist made in 1942 with the Lamoureux Concerts Orchestra and Eugène Bigot (Dutton CDBP9085).

Jean Hubeau’s Violin Concerto dates from 1939, and was written especially for Merckel, who premiered it in Paris on March 30, 1941. After the war, the two men, together with cellist Paul Tortelier, formed a piano trio. Hubeau similarly penned a concerto for the cellist. The Violin Concerto is easily accessible and proffers a wealth of lyricism and melodic invention. The violinist’s sweet, silvery tone and fast vibrato seem to fit the bill perfectly. The central Andante sereno is exquisitely done. Merckel lovingly shapes and caresses the phrases of this rather Korngold-like movement. Credit must also go to Henri Tomasi, whose sensitive accompaniment is utterly convincing and shows an evident rapport between the two artists. The finale is lusty and rhythmically alert, a perfect vehicle for Merckel’s consummate technique. Whilst the studio recording is sonically superior to this live event, I much prefer the latter for its compelling audacity in the outer movements and more successful balance between orchestra and soloist. In the commercial recording the orchestra seems rather recessed.

The neo-classically cast Malipiero Concerto is more spiky and angular than the Hubeau. It was written in 1932 and is in three movements. Once again there’s a centrally placed intensely lyrical movement, ardently etched by Merckel. In the finale Tomasi sets a brisk pace for what is a stunning tour-de-force for the soloist, pulled off brilliantly. This movement contains a lengthy cadenza. The ending is unusual in that there is a gentle poetic section preceding the energized and animated closing bars. It’s a wonderful concerto and one finds it difficult to comprehend its unjust neglect. I first got to know it via André Gertler’s more expansive reading on Supraphon coupled with an equally fine violin concerto by his compatriot and contemporary Alfredo Casella (SU 3904-2).

Not only do the two concertos deserve wider currency, but these live airings are valuable additions to the Merckel discography. There are no notes included.
Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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