Kaufman french MACD4620

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

Louis Kaufman (violin)
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Concertino de Printemps (1934)
Dances de Jacarémirim (1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1945)
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Violin Sonata (1942-43 rev 1949)
Henri Sauguet (1901-1989)
Concerto d’Orphée (1953)
Hélène Pignari (piano: Poulenc)
Arthur Balsam (piano: Milhaud)
ORTF/ Darius Milhaud, Jean Michel Leconte (Sauguet)
rec. 1949-55
Music & Arts CD620 [75]

My previous review of Louis Kaufman’s bewitching violin playing was of a late recording of Telemann and Spohr, collated by Music and Arts. This one concentrates on apt and congenial repertoire, not least because of his friendships with at least two of the three composers. His association with Milhaud began at Mills College in 1938 and his propagandist work consisted of a number of American première performances as well as a Parisian debut with the Second Violin Concerto in an all-Milhaud concert conducted by the composer. Similarly his friendship with Poulenc led to Kaufman’s championing of the Violin Sonata in America; together composer and violinist performed the revised version of the sonata in Paris, a performance dedicated to the memory of Ginette Neveu, for whom the work had been written. Kaufman doubtless knew Sauguet as well and his buoyant playing in the Concerto d’Orphée clearly demonstrates his affinity.

His legendarily intense vibrato and voluptuous tone might not be thought necessarily fruitful adjuncts for this repertoire but Kaufman shows that coiled expressivity has its place in these works. Neveu’s intensity, after all, was equally powerful, though the way in which she deployed it differed more than somewhat and the dedicatee of Milhaud’s Concerto de Printemps – Yvonne Astruc – was an altogether more svelte and slim-toned player. All three plainly appealed to Milhaud – Neveu for her full bloodedness, Astruc for her Gallic reserve and Kaufman for his devastatingly candid, exceptionally fast vibrato, amongst other qualities. He brings to the Concerto de Printemps a verdant, swooping colour that bathes the work in the most luxurious of sound worlds. Both composer-executant and soloist are vibrantly evocative with more than a hint of burnished ecstasy about the playing. In the delightful and brisk Dances de Jacarémirim Balsam is rather too backwardly balanced – but I generally find him too reticent anyway. Kaufman meanwhile really soars aloft in the second dance, Tanguinho, and is suitably febrile and dramatic – fast too – in the concluding Chorinho.

Kaufman gave the Chicago premiere of the Second Concerto with Kubelik in October 1950. Milhaud paces the portentous opening perfectly and the subsequent march and triumphalism is well realised. It was in Kaufman’s musical nature to embody some of the fizzing swagger Milhaud has so idiomatically written into the solo part before the orchestra once more shows its intransigent face and the movement ends in decisive power. The lyricism and subtly reflective writing in the slow movement finds a worthy exponent in Kaufman, whose effortless warmth over supportive drum taps is one of the highlights of the performance. Milhaud transforms the earlier implacable material in the light of the development over the first two movements; by the time of the third, titled, Emporté harmonics and rustic innocence abound; brass is bold, effulgence fills the air. As ever with Milhaud rhythms are active and there’s strong sectional drive from the orchestra, leading to the triumphant solo conclusion.

Poulenc’s Sonata, written in memory of Lorca, murdered in 1936, is a work that fuses passion, lyrical reflection and incipient, stark tragedy. In its broader references, though not necessarily its harmonic or thematic material, one should adduce the sheer lyricism and elasticity of Grieg’s third Violin Sonata and the schema of the eruptive tragedy of Smetana’s First Quartet. The Intermezzo, with its songful grace, its sway and lilt serves to prefigure the final playing out of the work – the tragic finale which begins in innocent animation and suffers a catastrophic breakdown; the final ambiguity sensitively conveyed by Kaufman and the fine pianist Hélène Pignari.

To conclude this idiomatic slice of late forties, early fifties Parisian recording life comes Sauguet’s Concerto d’Orphée, a restless portrayal of the binary in music making. The lyrical, entreating solo violin, Orpheus, is confronted by the braying animals in the orchestra. The soloist grows ever more lyrical, ever more powerful in tone and depth. Kaufman’s throbbingly lyrico-oratorical stance is ideal for this music and in the consolatory and conciliatory cadenza – played with intensity and virtuosic panache – he surges through the score marvellously.

Music and Arts are honest in adding a caveat to the back of the jewel box; the master tapes no longer survive and Kaufman’s own tapes were used and these, unfortunately, had been electronically rechanelled in stereo, in a way all too familiar from LPs of old. This is not disastrous but it is a shame – only the Sauguet is unaffected. I have the Milhaud Concerto No. 2 on 78 and can vouch that the stereo reprocessing has done it no favours. Still, let’s not end on a sour note. Only a myopic would reject this disc for that reason; the glorious sounds of Kaufman in this glittering literature – lyrical, tragic, introspective, exultant is one that excites, enchants and has the power, constantly, to move.

Jonathan Woolf

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