Schubert, Haydn, Debussy

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Haydn,Schubert
WORKS: Violin Sonata in A, D574; Fantasy in C, D934
PERFORMER: Yehudi Menuhin (violin); Benjamin Britten (piano)
When it came to interpretation, Yehudi Menuhin and Benjamin Britten weren’t quite two minds with but a single thought – at least not on the evidence of these recordings. One is very much aware of two distinct musical personalities: Menuhin is sweetly, generously poetic, expansive and also the more blemish-prone of the two (especially in the Schubert Sonata); Britten homes in on details with typically penetrating clarity, though in his much more contained way he’s far from cool. They do work well together – most of the time; however there were moments when I couldn’t help wondering if Britten was entirely happy with Menuhin’s rubato, particularly in the Debussy. There’s rarely more than the minutest divergence between them, rhythmically speaking, but it’s enough to create flickers of unease. Perhaps the balance doesn’t help: in the three 1959 recordings the violin tone is recessed and acidic. The 1957 Schubert Fantasy sounds better from an engineering point of view – just as well, as this is the outstanding performance in this collection. Here Menuhin and Britten feel more closely connected in their music-making, and it’s good to hear this rarely heard but endlessly absorbing work brought off with such style and conviction. One word of warning though: the first chord of the Debussy Sonata is missing – whether it was lost in the transfer or in the original radio recording I can’t say; either way it’s a howler. Stephen Johnson