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History of the Salon – Morceaux caractéristiques (1823-1913)
Vaughan Jones (violin), Marcus Price (piano)
rec. 2019, Plumcroft Primary School, London

As Vaughan Jones makes plain in his booklet notes ‘salon’ carries pejorative implications. Notions of triviality and superficiality adhere to the word even today and I’ve certainly been known to reach for the word from time to time to denote a piece of fluffy content. Often, it’s true, of course, but as the subtitle of his disc suggest, the morceaux caractéristiques that he and pianist Marcus Price espouse on this packed 23-piece selection offer a considerably higher ration of musical value dating as they do from 1923 to 1913. Collectors should also note the relatively high number of premiere recordings – no fewer than eight, in fact.

Jones has selected his repertoire wisely. There are many of the expected names from the genre but not necessarily the expected pieces. Thus, he doesn’t simply dust down d’Ambrosio’s Canzonetta but instead seeks out the Serenade, Op.4 and Aria, Op.22 (this last is a world première recording). He plays the former with refined savoir faire and the latter, a warm, indeed lament-like affair, with perception. It was dedicated to Jan Kubelík. As Jones notes, Zarzycki’s Mazurka No.1 was recorded by Maud Powell and Bronislaw Huberman (there were plenty of others, though, such as Daisy Kennedy, Isolde Menges and Francescatti in one of his earliest sessions – all abridged) but I think most people would associate it with David Oistrakh. Jones takes a gentlemanly approach to it, exploring the finger position changes with stylish aplomb, though Oistrakh brings it more vividly to life. Unfair competition, of course, for almost every violinist. Jones also plays the Second Mazurka, the one hardly anyone plays.

Amongst the highlights one finds a transcription by Friedrich Herman of Moszkowski’s tender Mélodie in F major, a piano original, gracefully performed here. Raff’s Cavatina is an indisputable salon favourite, but Vaughan plays it without sugar, instead bringing out the serious and noble element of a piece routinely knocked out with cavalier schmaltz. He also plays the same composer’s Méditation in A Major most attractively. Drdla’s Serenade No.1, too, is a necessary part of the programme, hugely popular on 78s. It was played superbly by the Czechs Kubelík and Příhoda, who are slightly slower than Vaughan and Price, but the composer himself, in his acoustic 78 made in 1924, shows that a slightly tighter tempo mitigates the jog-trot piano rhythm. Don’t overlook that other erstwhile favourite, Braga’s La Serenata, memorably recorded by Kreisler and Toscha Seidel. Perhaps Vaughan could have noted that the arranger, Adolf Pollitzer, was briefly Elgar’s violin teacher.

Very usefully he and Price disinter five of Franz Anton (François) Schubert’s Twelve Bagatelles. These include the once-evergreen L’abeille (The Bee) heard here in its original version, which is to say not in the Wilhelmj arrangement. This set of five claims world première recording status. The third is a charmer, with its elegant lyricism, whilst the Barcarola (No.12) is a particularly nice discovery, a quite pensive barcarolle and all the better for it. Violinists wanting wistful and unknown encores, please note. You’ll find more fantasy and colour in other performances of Sgambati’s Serenata napolitana – the opening ‘warming up’ figures are superb at Heifetz’s tempo and with his rhythmic kick; interestingly Heifetz and Jan Kubelík take precisely the same tempo, decades apart.

Turn though to Ferdinand Laub’s Canzonetta, drawn from his Morceaux, Op.12 and you’ll find another rich charmer. I’m amazed no one has recorded this before, not even Czechs like Snítil or Šporcl, but it would seem not. Vecsey’s Valse triste has kept a toehold in the encore repertory. The composer recorded it but it’s Grumiaux, nearer our time, who lavished his great skill on it and he shows greater tonal variety and personality than this rival performance. The penultimate piece in the programme is also one of the most popular, Sarasate’s arrangement of Moszkowski’s Guiatrre and things end with Vaughan’s own arrangement of Granados’ Oriental from the Danzas españolas. This make a pleasing change from Kreisler’s Andaluza transcription.

The recording was made in a primary school in London and whilst not burnished with bloom – a quality in any case that I don’t happen always to like - has clarity and directness. Both Vaughan and Price play with, as I hope I’ve suggested, attention to stylistic niceties and an unwillingness to simply trot out unnuanced performances.

It would be remiss of me to overlook the production standards of this disc. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen such a beautifully and thoughtfully designed booklet, housed in a smart digipack.
The subtly ‘antique’ paper, deftly browned as though by age, the delightful colour reproduction of James Tissot’s Hush! (The Concert) and the black and white photographic reproductions are all pertinent and splendidly realised. FHR shows that you needn’t simply stand and deliver when it comes to this kind of thing. You can support your project with artwork that complements it imaginatively.

And you certainly don’t have to bathe in the lulling waters of nostalgia to enjoy this particular disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Aleksander ZARZYCKI (1834–1895)
Mazurka No. 1 in G major, Op. 26 (1884) [6:14]
Mazurka No. 2 in E major, Op. 39 (1894) [3:51]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782–1840)
Cantabile e Valzer, Op. 19 (1823) [6:01]
Alfredo D’AMBROSIO (1871–1878)
Sérénade, Op. 4 [3:31]
Aria, Op. 22 [4:05]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854–1925)
5 Piano Pieces, Op. 18: No. 1, Mélodie in F major (arr. Friedrich Herman) [2:33]
Benjamin GODARD (1849–1895)
Concerto romantique, Op. 35: III. Canzonetta (arr. Benjamin Godard) (1887) [3:39]
Joachim RAFF (1822–1882)
6 morceaux, Op. 85: No. 3, Cavatina (1859) [3:36]
Méditation in A Major, Op. 75, No. 5, ‘Après le Coucher du Soleil’ (arr. Friedrich Hermann) [3:33]
František DRDLA (1868–1944)
Serenade No. 1 in A major (1901) [3:38]
Gaetano BRAGA (1829–1907)
La Serenata, ‘Angel’s Serenade’ (arr. Adolf Pollitzer) (1867) [4:15]
François SCHUBERT (1808–1878)
12 Bagatelles, Op. 13 (1860) [11:18]
No. 3, Allegretto gracioso: No. 4, Allegretto agitato: No. 8, Le Désir; No. 9, L’Abeille;
No. 12, Barcarola
Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841–1914)
2 Pezzi, Op. 24: No. 2, Serenata napolitana (1897) [3:28]
Ferdinand LAUB (1832–1875)
4 Morceaux, Op. 12: No. 1, Canzonetta in B minor [2:32]
Benoit “Benno” HOLLANDER (1853–1942)
Mazurek in E major, Op. 25 [4:58]
Louis SPOHR (1784–1859)
6 Salonstücke, Op. 135: No. 1, Barcarole in G major (1845) [4:09]
Franz Von VECSEY (1893–1935)
Valse triste in C minor (1913) [2:35]
2 Pièces, Op. 45: No. 2, Guitarre in G major (arr. Pablo de Sarasate) (1890) [4:27]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867–1916)
12 Danzas españolas, Op. 37: No. 2, Oriental (arr. Vaughan Jones) (1890) [4:27]

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