Notes and Editorial Reviews
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
Jacques Thibaud (vn); Ernest Ansermet, cond;
Eugène Bigot, cond;
Tasso Janopoulo (pn);
O de la Suisse Romande;
San Francisco SO
OPUS KURA 2082, mono (64:11) Broadcast: 11/17/1941;
Carl Flesch identified Lalo, Chausson, Saint-Saëns, and Franck as the core of Jacques Thibaud’s repertoire, and Opus Kura has assembled them (most of them, anyway) in a single program. Thibaud’s version of Lalo’s
, in its popular four-movement form with Ansermet, hails from a wartime 1941 broadcast. Although Flesch preferred Thibaud’s readings of Lalo’s Concerto in F Major, which he considered a more substantial work, this recording—despite a pitch problem (the piece sounds about a half-step sharp, making the key of the brilliant first movement E? Minor) that should be noticeable even to those familiar with the work but not endowed with absolute pitch—conveys both Thibaud’s violinistic personality in general and his unique way with this specific Franco-Spanish showpiece. The engineers captured Thibaud up close, and whatever defects the recorded sound may suffer, it’s not too hard to form an impression of the way the artist sounded. His portamentos help shape that impression, but so does his glowing tone on the G string in general and his lyricism in the first movement’s lyrical second theme in particular. The Gallic charm continues to pour itself out in the second movement, at once playful and wistful in this reading, though the technical passages—at the tempo he’s chosen—may occasionally strike listeners used to Heifetz’s and Milstein’s pyrotechnics as a bit note-bound. But moments like the slowdown near the end more than compensate in atmosphere for whatever the movement may lack in brilliance. Ansermet shapes the orchestral introduction to the slow movement with obvious sympathy, and the soloist, who dominates from his entry to the end, conjures in this movement magic of a sort that listeners aren’t likely to hear again soon. Each of the devices that he employs, however antiquated, not only works well in isolation but fits neatly into his own sumptuous expressive personality as well as that of the music. The finale may not sound quicksilver at his tempo (how did Sarasate play the movement?) but it has plenty of
, and the episode on the G string sounds more satisfying than it does in just about any other version I’ve heard.
Pitch problems (everything’s slightly sharp) and almost but not quite distracting surface noise also beset the studio recording of Chausson’s
with Eugène Bigot from 1947. This reading, however, provides a vivid account of the music’s subtly refined yet highly charged atmosphere, and Thibaud casts his spell with a minimum of mannerism.
, from a 1947 live performance with Monteux, brings to mind several connections. First of all, the booklet notes state that Monteux took a “joint” first prize in violin with Thibaud at the Paris Conservatoire; but they don’t mention that actually four shared the prize, and Thibaud remarked later that he would have won an even lower prize than fourth if there had been other winners (supposedly his last place in the winners’ group stung his vanity). Further, Saint-Saëns conceived the piece, frequently associated with Sarasate, on a tour in 1885 with Cuban violinist Raphael Diaz Albertini, to whom he dedicated it. Thibaud’s tempos may not seem inordinately slow to us nowadays (although they extend the timing to just more than 10 minutes, slightly slower than many modern performances; he takes much of the extra time in the slow episodes rather than in the thematic or technical passages), but Saint-Saëns thought they altered the piece’s character (but who plays the
sections at anything approaching the suggested MM = 104?). Although violinists recorded and played the work with piano, this live recording offers listeners the opportunity to hear Thibaud play it with a highly sympathetic violinist-conductor. Listeners seduced by the languid atmosphere, however, may find this performance as redolent as Grumiaux’s first one with Fournet from 1956 (although Thibaud doesn’t create as luxuriously relaxed an atmosphere in the final section as did Grumiaux). The pitch, unlike that of the first two transcriptions, sounds only a tad off.
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
with, the booklet conjectures, Tasso Janopoulo, comes from an acetate (perhaps, the notes suggest, unique) of a live performance from 1939. Thibaud appears both more alert technically and more sharply focused tonally in this earlier performance—transmitted at last at correct pitch. Here’s the best portrait in the album of the Jacques Thibaud who stood shoulder to shoulder in the estimation of many with Kreisler (with whom his playing shared an almost sinful decadence) and Ysaÿe. At about eight and a half minutes, the reading seems to fit well with modern expectations, though Thibaud has enough time to indulge his expressive fancy. Urgently recommended as a document of a violinist of the first rank reveling in his favorite—and arguably his choicest—repertoire.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 by Edouard Lalo
Jacques Thibaud (Violin)
Written: 1873; France
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