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Ginette Neveu in America
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D, Op 61 (1806) [45:49]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, for Violin and Orchestra, 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

This recent release from Pristine Audio gathers together all of Ginette Neveu’s known American broadcast performances. It includes one treasure, which will be warmly welcomed by the artist’s devotees, a first publication of a Beethoven Violin Concerto with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, an ABC broadcast dated 23 December 1947 from Symphony Hall, Boston. In addition, there’s a CBS broadcast of 2 January 1949 from Carnegie Hall of Chausson’s Poème and Ravel’s Tzigane, where the violinist is partnered by Charles Munch at the helm of the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York. These latter performances have had a previous incarnation on a Music and Arts 2 CD set (CD-837).

Neveu’s was a tragically short but musically rich life. She was born in Paris in 1919 and took her first violin steps with her mother. Progress was swift, and she performed the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 and the Mendelssohn Concerto aged seven. Teachers included Line Talluel and later Jules Boucherit at the Conservatoire de Paris. The finishing touches in her musical development came from the renowned George Enescu, Nadia Boulanger and Carl Flesch. The latter agreed to teach her without charge. In 1935, she entered the inaugural Wieniawski Competition, where famously she beat the twenty-six-year-old David Oistrakh. Sadly, with her star on the ascent, she was killed, together with her brother Jean, in a plane crash in the Azores on 27 October 1949 at the age of only thirty. They were on their way to the United States for a concert tour.

Lets put some background and context to Neveu’s American appearances and Beethoven Concerto performances. She first appeared in the States in 1937, which was a recital tour. Ten years later she returned for concert performances with orchestra. She made quite a hit with her Beethoven Concerto interpretation. Karajan wanted to record the Concerto with her, a project scuppered by her untimely death. She’d also performed it with Barbirolli, Ormandy and Szell. Gidon Kremer considered her 1949 German radio performance under Hans Rosbaud “the best, warmest, most human, most personal performance and the one most dedicated to music”. This has had several releases on CD. Yet another performance released on Tahra, recorded on 1 May 1949, has Willem Van Otterloo directing the Radio Filarmonica Orkest (TAHRA 355/357). It’s considered by Tully Potter to be a misattribution; so the jury’s out on that one.

The Beethoven performance showcases Neveu’s youthful ardor and impeccable musicianship. It’s a performance of great nobility. Koussevitzky’s first movement tutti is comfortable and nicely paced. Once the violin enters, we can fully savour the nobility and patrician elegance which Neveu brings to this work. The Kreisler cadenza is dispatched with style and dazzle. The audience show their appreciation after this movement with some enthusiastic and well-meaning applause. In the slow movement she plays with expressive delicacy, with the lyrical contouring of the line both instinctive and eloquent. The finale is rhythmically buoyant and crisply articulated. The performance, as a whole, benefits from the ideal balance struck between soloist and orchestra, a marvelous achievement on the part of the engineers at the time.

The 1949 broadcast from Carnegie Hall with Charles Munch features two shorter works Neveu had a special affinity with. Unlike the Beethoven Concerto, she’d recorded both commercially at Abbey Road, London in 1946. For me, Chausson’s Poème reveals the breadth and enormity of Neveu’s talent, not only in terms of technical command, but also of expressive range and wide-ranging colour palette. There are moments of burning intensity, contrasting with passages of yearning lyricism. Munch, too, injects great feeling and commitment into the music, and one senses a singularity of vision on the part of soloist and conductor. I’ve always felt that the performance has more spontaneity and passion than the studio recording, as Neveu responds to the frisson of the live event.

Ravel’s Tzigane, inspired by Hungarian folk music, is cast in the form of a csárdás. Neveu gives a breathtaking and magical performance, playing with technical accomplishment and wild abandon. It’s all there - harmonics, trills, glissandos, pizzicatos and double stops - delivered with verve, vigour and panache. This airing with orchestra again feels more edge-of-seat than the commercial recording, which is accompanied by her brother Jean on piano.

Mark Obert-Thorn has worked his usual magic on these transfers and they emerge fresh and vital. His sources are the original network reference acetate discs from which extraneous noises from the audience and players have been removed. He comments in his accompanying note that “the Beethoven has been transferred at the higher pitch (A4=445 Hz) that Koussevitzky’s Boston Symphony was known to have used at the time, while the Munch/New York performance is presented at the “standard” concert pitch of 440 Hz”. Announcements and applause have been retained.

The Beethoven constitutes a valuable addition to the Neveu discography, and the entire disc should enjoy a hallowed place amongst violin aficionados.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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