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Jonathan Woolf
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 (1806) [45:49]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, for violin and piano, Op.25 (1896) [16:38]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane, for violin and orchestra (1924) [10:56]
Ginette Neveu (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky (Beethoven)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Charles Munch (Chausson and Ravel)
rec. December 1947, Symphony Hall, Boston (Beethoven) and January 1949, Carnegie Hall, NYC

A decade after her 1937 tour of America, Ginette Neveu returned to give a series of concerts. As for many artists, the war had restricted her performances, in her case to her native France, but renewed opportunities to travel and to record saw an expansion in Neveu’s international horizons. In December 1947 she performed the Beethoven Concerto with Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, and this live broadcast, taken from copies of the original ABC reference acetate discs, is an exciting and striking addition to her discography. It has been transferred at the pitch used by the Boston orchestra at the time which was A=445 Hz.

Neveu was on outstanding form and her rapport with Koussevitzky is strong. He provides a trenchant platform for her in the first movement, with tight chording and crisp, sometimes even curt punctuation in the strings. Nothing is taken for granted in a reading of this kind, not least because both were big personalities in their own right. There are a couple of very slight defects in her playing earlier on where she very fractionally splits a note and fails to sustain tonal body in a subsequent passage – almost inevitable corollaries of a live performance – but otherwise her famed technique and big expressive tone are fully intact. She takes the Kreisler cadenza with eloquent control, varying, even subtly intensifying her vibrato as the movement comes to an end. She is then rewarded with a remarkable bust of applause lasting fully one minute twenty seconds – which is why the timing for the first movement is greater than the music one hears. Her tempo in the Larghetto is the same one that she would take two years later when she was recorded off-air with Hans Rosbaud and the Southwest German Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden (review). The buoyant finale is again faster than the timing suggests as it includes renewed applause. What lasts 11:15 is actually 9:40 of elite music-making. Throughout, conductor and orchestra are immensely supportive. The microphone set up is astutely judged, the balance between soloist and orchestra ensuring full value to both.

The addendum to this concerns a Tahra release of the Beethoven which I reviewed nearly twenty years ago (review). Writer Tully Potter, cited in the one-page note in Pristine’s documentation, doubts the performance is actually by Neveu, and if this is so, then this Koussevitzky performance joins the Rosbaud as the – thus far – only authenticated recorded performances that exist of her playing a work that only her premature death prevented her recording in the studio.

The other two items with Charles Munch and the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York were recorded on 2 January 1949 in Carnegie Hall and have been released before, on Music & Arts, and do form part of her commercial discography, albeit Ravel’s Tzigane was recorded with Neveu’s brother, Jean, in 1946. She plays Tzigane with gutsy power and the Chausson Poème, which she recorded with Issay Dobrowen and the Philharmonia in 1946, offers an expressive contrast. Pristine has used CBS acetates for this pair and Mark Obert-Thorn has ironed out any imperfections with a practised hand; certainly, you won’t hear the occasional click that one could hear in the Music & Arts transfer and the sound in the newcomer is greatly clarified and clear; a real sonic improvement.

It hardly needs further saying that the Beethoven is an important addition to Neveu’s legacy and not only is the sound excellent but so too is the performance.

Jonathan Woolf

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