Denise Soriano was born on January 15, 1916 in Cairo (Egypt), to a Greek father, naturalized French citizen and a French mother. In 1921, after the death of her father when she was 5 years old, she moved to her grandfather in Tuscany (Italy) with her mother, her younger brother Marc and her two older sisters. Her first violin instruction was at age 6 by Ugo Bianchi at the Conservatory of Pisa. The Soriano family stayed in Pisa until 1927, when the Italian Fascism largely developed in Italy. In 1928, they moved to Paris and soon after Soriano entered the Ecole Normale Musique. André Asselin (1895–1993) presented her to Jules Boucherit (1877–1962), who invited her to become one of his students at the Conservatoire de Paris. Boucherit was a renowned violin pedagogue whose notable students include Ginette Neveu, Henri Temianka, Manuel Quiroga, Michel Schwalbé, Manuel Rosenthal, Ivry Gitlis, Michèle Boussinot, Michèle Auclair, Devy Erlih, Janine Andrade, Jacques Dejean, Serge Blanc, Lola Bobesco and the conductor Jean Martinon.
Boucherit was a very demanding teacher. Each new student had to practice scales, arpeggios, double stops, separate bows, one bow per note, placing portamenti for the first 6 months to get familiar with a standard finger pattern. And each student had to play every 2 weeks a new learned concerto by memory. Soriano gained 1st Prize at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 16 years in 1932, and graduated with the Prix d’Excellence two years later. She became known after appearing in Paris at the Salle Pleyel (1934) aged 18 with the Orchestre de la Société des concerts du Conservatoire under the baton of Paul Paray performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Robert Brussel, a French music critic for Figaro, wrote: “Mlle. Soriano received the most enthusiastic applause. Her purity of lyrical expression, clear intonation, warm communicative musical phrasing, and originality of conception put her among the top violinists of her generation”. She immediately worked with major orchestral ensembles in France, including the Orchestre Colonne, Orchestre Lamoureux, Orchestre Pasdeloup and the Orchestre de la Société des concerts du Conservatoire again, with whom she performed twice the Glazunov Violin Concerto under the batons of Philippe Gaubert (February 2, 1936) and Gustave Cloez (October 31, 1937).
Her class mate, the Polish-born violinist Michel Schwalbé, who was for almost 30 years concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, attended one of Soriano’s Glazunov performance and later said: “Her complete playing, technique, interpretation, pure-toned quality, phrasing, emotion and taste, had surprised me at the highest level!”
She then embarked on a hugely successful tour in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Netherland under the batons of Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Georges Sébastian, Jean Martinon, Eugène Bigot, and Henri Tomasi. A writer with Le Figaro wrote in 1939: “Soriano is one of the most expert young ladies now wielding a bow. She played Mozart’s D major Concerto, tossing off the beautiful composition with polished technique, fine-spun tone, and considerable rhythmic subtlety.” Soriano’s promising career was interrupted by World War II. In 1942, she went into hiding inside of La Chansonnière, the house of her teacher Boucherit (who shared it with Magda Tagliaferro, living in Brazil at that time), in Bourron-Marlotte (France) in order to avoid the Milice française (French Military Police), as she was partly Jewish according to the discriminatory racial laws. Boucherit was revolted by the fate of his Jewish students. He was scandalized by the deportations, and at that point he decided to hide several of his aspiring violinists. Those hidden at Bourron-Marlotte were Michèle Boussinot, Devi Erlih, Ivry Gitlis, Charles Cyroulnik, Denise Soriano, and Michel Schwalbé. None of these young artists were arrested, nor was their protector. On February 28, 1993, Boucherit was posthumously proclaimed “Righteous among the Nations” at a ceremony organized by the Yad Vashem Institute, Jerusalem.
After World War II, she became a popular recording artist for the French label Pathé and her career continued successfully through the 1950s, when she performed with the pianist Céliny Chailley-Richez in France, Switzerland, and Netherland, and in Lausanne with Alfred Cortot. Jacques Thibaud, a great admirer of Soriano said: “She is the only magnificent violinist who could claim to become the successor of the mourning Ginette Neveu”.
In 1949, she joined the French Radio “Radiodiffusion française” as an intermittent employee invited by Henry Barraud, founder and Director of Radio France after the Liberation of Paris in 1944. She recorded a large number of violin works with Céliny Chailley Richez (Mozart), Helene Pignari (Brahms, Schumann, Fauré, Mozart), Odette Pigault (Rameau, Leclair, Franck, Tartini, Martelli, Sarasate, Saint-Saëns, Hahn, Granados, Albeniz), Gisèle Kuhn (Grieg, Paray, Pascal), Jeanne Marie Darré (represented on this release) and Marie Madeleine Petit (Milhaud, Dandelot, Rivier, Saint-Saëns). She married Boucherit in 1956 and in parallel to her career, she wanted to dedicate her time to teach young violinists. For political or obscure reasons, she was refused to teach at the “Conservatoire national supérieur de musique de Paris”, although she applied four times between 1959 and 1975 for a position. She entered the “Education Nationale”. In December 1962, she took over a position at the “Centre National de Télé Enseignement (CNTE) in Vanves”, where she taught until 1968. The “Conservatoire Darius Milhaud” accepted her as a professor and she stayed until her retirement in 1985.
She appeared for the last time in public in 2004 with the “Quartet Soriano” that occurred every year since 1990 during the month of May in the room Marie- Antoinette Hotel Saint- James & Albany Street Rivoli.
Denise Soriano died on March 5, 2006 in Paris.
Source: Les greniers de la mémoire, French radio program, January 06, 2004. Soriano interviewed by Karin Le Bail.
© Michael Waiblinger 2014
Denise Soriano (1916-2006) was a student of Jules Boucherit whom, many years later, and after a remarkable series of incidents, she was to marry – briefly, he hid her and numerous others in his house to escape the predatory French military police on the hunt for Jews. Her debut was in the mid-1930s and she soon began a series of important concert engagements in France, a period truncated by the War. After it she resumed her career, notably with a series of discs for Pathé and via a contract with Radiodiffusion Française. It was in 1956 that she married Boucherit – he was then nearly 80 and she 40. Gradually in the 1960s she taught more than she was to pursue a solo career, though she continued to appear on the concert stage, not least with her quartet. Her last public performance was in 2004.
She had long been associated with Mozart. I know of her 78-rpm recordings of the Third Concerto, with Boucherit conducting, and the so-called Seventh with Munch – both used Enescu’s cadenzas and both were made for Pathé in 1933 – though I’ve never heard them and wonder if they have ever been transferred to CD. She also recorded two sonatas, K.378 and, with Magda Tagliafero, K.454. So it is unsurprising that she is represented by a Mozart sonata in this release from Melo Classic, which has excavated four sonatas from her Paris broadcasts, given between 1958 and 1960. Fortunately it’s not one she recorded – it’s the A major, K.526 and as with all the sonatas she has the elevated musicianship of pianist Jeanne-Marie Darré to keep her company. The performance is bracing, spirited and buoyant, with excellent ensemble. Her intonation is fine, though her bright sound can be quite biting, as was the case with quite a few French violinists of this period. A touch of acerbity keeps comfortable charm and ennui at bay, however, and whilst she takes time to get into the slow movement and has a few co-ordination problems in the finale, where some untidiness is audible, her playing is, as ever, full of life. Jacques Thibaud was a great admirer of Soriano and would have enjoyed her vitality, though his Mozartian conception was very much more suave.
She is equally tonally bracing in the Saint-Saëns sonata though the recording, and perhaps Soriano’s tone production too, together conspire to render the playing somewhat unrelieved from time to time. Tending strongly toward the astringent end of the French tonal spectrum it could be argued that aspects of this sonata suit her resinous drive very well – the second of the two movements in particular where the music’s moto perpetuo element is well conveyed. Her fiery control is not immaculate, and the tone can be pinched, but the drive is unarguable. She had recorded Reynaldo Hahn’s1926 Violin Sonata on a Pathé 78 set but here she is with it again in this February 1959 broadcast. It’s a work of ceaseless songful lyricism, more an extended chanson than a real sonata perhaps, but strangely the lack of ingratiating bloom in Soriano’s tone creates a valid tension between elements. Apart from a sticky bow or two in the finale the playing is excellent, and it’s noticeable she notches up her vibrato at the lovely start of the finale. The Ravel (January 1960) suits her rather cool outlook, and her brightly projected tone is a good foil for it. She subtly underplays the Blues movement – violinists who indulge it invariably come unstuck – though it’s not the jazziest you’ll hear.
Soriano, like Jeanne Gautier and other players of that generation, was an important presence in French musical life. It’s right that her art should be celebrated in so thoughtful a way as this, presented in a digipack with notes in English. There’s presumably a lot more Soriano in the archives, so let’s hope her Fauré, Milhaud and Brahms – for starters – can be restored.
© Jonathan Woolf