Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Yehudi Menuhin’s Recordings Get More Interesting in Partnership with Sister Hephzibah

Almost exactly a month ago, I discussed how my general discontent with Warner Classics’ The Menuhin Century took a turn for the better with the appearance of Pablo Casals in the Live Performances and Festival Recordings box. I am happy to report that this good news is even more extensive in the 20-CD box Complete Recordings with Hephzibah Menuhin. Apparently, Hephzibah knew how to light a fire under her older brother Yehudi; and the result is a series of recordings that consistently are anything but routine.

Much of the box is devoted to the “usual suspects” from the nineteenth century, with particular attention given to Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms. There is even a highly satisfying account of Brahms’ Opus 40 horn trio in E-flat major in a recording made with Alan Civil on horn in 1967. However, that sense of nineteenth century vigor also spills over into the opening CD of Mozart sonatas, all recorded in the Thirties. At the other extreme there are two equally engaging recordings of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 50 trio in A minor, one from 1936 with Maurice Eisenberg and the other from 1969 with Maurice Gendron. Among the less familiar compositions, the recording of the Opus 82 sonata in E minor by Edward Elgar, made in 1978, is a real find, recalling that Menuhin was exposed to Elgar’s influences when recording that composer’s violin concerto. For the record (so to speak) there is also one more Casals appearance, joining the two Menuhins for a performance of the third (in C minor) of the Beethoven Opus 1 piano trios. Some of the recordings also see Menuhin exchanging his violin for a conductor’s baton (although he manages both for Felix Mendelssohn’s D minor concerto for violin and piano); but the real energy comes when both brother and sister are instrumentalists.

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