replay

Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues; Yehudi Menuhin 80th Birthday Edition Concertos by Paganini, Saint-Saens, Lalo and Mozart; sonatas by Beethoven, Brahms, Enesco and Prokofiev; plus 'encores' (Recorded: 1930-1953) (EMI References CHS 5 65964 2; six CDs)
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The Independent Culture
"I believe that children have an innate sense of what's proper, so that, even without conscious understanding, they're able to project the true essence of a work." So says Yehudi Menuhin on track 12 of a new Biddulph "sampler" CD (YM80) of 16 vintage selections - both extracts and solo pieces - recorded between 1928 and 1944, and each tailed by a touching spoken reminiscence.

The problem is that the "innate sense" Lord Menuhin refers to doesn't always go hand-in-hand with "an ability to project", although when it does - as in the majority of recordings gathered among this new batch of celebratory CDs - the effect is overwhelming. Listening to Master Yehudi is rather like re-visiting your first amatory infatuation: the manner of playing is spontaneous almost to a fault, the tone unstintingly expressive and the technique that of a musical athlete reaching for the skies.

EMI's six-CD set consists of five violin selections (all available separately) plus a rather lovely "freebie" disc on which a rather older Menuhin conducts his sister Hephzibah in Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos 14 and 19. Tops, for me, is the Paganini First Concerto, an outrageously confident display, dazzlingly brilliant (try Emile Sauret's wrist-twisting first movement cadenza), candidly heart-on-sleeve and buoyantly conducted by Pierre Monteux. (Biddulph have also re-issued it, but EMI's transfer is better.)

Menuhin's songful rendition of the Chausson Poeme recalls that of his great teacher Georges Enesco and, although Yehudi and Hephzibah take an unexpectedly sober view of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, their Brahms and Schubert (Sonata No 3 and Rondo brillant, D895) are hugely characterful. There's a hot-blooded Lalo Symphonie espagnole under Enesco (one of the first recordings to include the "Intermezzo" movement) and an account of Enesco's own gypsy-style Third Violin Sonata (with Hephzibah) that melds spirit and earth as to the manner born. David Oistrakh introduced Menuhin to Prokofiev's greatest violin work - the First Sonata - and the resulting 78s were revelatory in their interpretative perception.

Biddulph's rival crop of reissues (which runs to eight CDs in all) includes Menuhin's first chamber music recording, a sweet-toned but unfussy account of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio (on LAB127), while both companies have mined the archives for miniatures by Sarasate, Kreisler, Dvorak, Bazzini and others. Here, it would be sensible to supplement EMI's two-CD selection with Biddulph's Yehudi Menuhin Plays Favourite Encores (on LAB 128) - that way, you largely avoid unnecessary duplication.

But, whatever you choose, make sure that it includes what is perhaps the loveliest violin record Menuhin ever made, set down in 1939 and featuring a work that Ernest Bloch dedicated to him. It's called Abodah, or "Serving God in Holy Work", and bears ample witness to Menuhin's humanity, spirituality and interpretative perception. And, if you want to hear Menuhin himself tell the whole story, buy the Biddulph sampler. It's very cheap and should be in the shops within a week or so.

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