Lola Bobesco was born into a musical family on 9 August 1921 in Craiova, Romania. Her grandfather was a singer and her father Aurel Bobesco played a dominant role in furthering her musical education and development. As a conductor and composer, he could play all string instruments by himself and the piano. She began to study violin at the age of three, after she received a 1/4 size violin from a friend of her father as Christmas gift in 1924. She gave her first public performance at the age of six performing the Mozart/Kreisler Rondo, Schumann’s Träumerei and the Brahms Scherzo in C minor from the F.A.E. Sonata, accompanied by her father at the piano. Bobesco was then invited by the Queen of Romania Marie for a recital, who helped her by arranging a recital tour throughout the major European capitals. In 1928, she went to Paris to receive advices from her compatriot Georges Enescu about her further musical development.
He arranged for her to play for Jacques Thibaud, who was much impressed and Thibaud arranged for Bobesco to study under Marcel Chailley at the Paris École Normale de Musique between 1928 and 1930. She continued her studies at the Paris Conservatory (1931-1935) with Jules Boucherit, where she gained her first prize in 1934, and graduated with the Prix d’Excellence. Later she admitted, that she had never to pay for any lessons.
A recital debut in Paris came in 1933 when she played the Franck Violin Sonata and Fauré’s 1st Violin Sonata with pianist Céliny Chailley-Richez. Bobesco initially wanted to participate in the 1st International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Warsaw in 1935 but after she noticed that her classmate Ginette Neveu had already registered, Bobesco decided not to proceed further. Bobesco made her solo debut in 1936 playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Colonne Orchestra under Paul Paray in Paris.
The following year, 1937, she attended the Eugene Ysaÿe Competition. Ysaÿe was very close friends with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and she initiated the Concours International de Violon Eugène Ysaÿe in his honor. This competition quickly became one of the most outstanding music competitions in the world.
Bobesco played a very respectable program at the finals of the Eugene Ysaÿe Competition on Tuesday 30 March 1937 in Bruxelles at Centre for Fine Arts, Salle Henry Le Boeuf:
- Viotti: Violin Concerto No. 22 in A minor
- Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole, op. 21
- François Schubert: L’abeille
- Stan Golstan: Laoutar
- Kreisler: Prélude et Allegro (after G. Pugnani)
- Ysaÿe: Rêve d’enfant op. 4
- Kreisler: Sicilienne and Rigaudon in the style of Francoeur
- Fauré: Berceuse op. 16
- Ysaÿe: Sonata for Solo Violin in E minor op. 27/4
- Bach: Sonata for Solo Violin No.1 in G minor BWV 1001
Bobesco was awarded a seventh prize. In his Reminiscences and reflections, Joseph Szigeti wrote: “In a report on the 1937 Concours International Eugene Ysaÿe at Brussels, Carl Flesch (who with Thibaud and myself was one of the judges) remarked that technique has taken the place of spirituality. Although the material, mechanical work is unsurpassed, he pointed out, the warmth and the mystery of music have departed. Speaking of the deadening effect of grim, joyless, technically flawless playing which makes a Mozart concerto sound like a Kreutzer study. The results of the contest were considered startling. Soviet players completely overshadowed those of the older, more famous schools. This is the order: 1. David Oistrakh (USSR) | 2. Ricardo Odnoposoff (Austria) | 3. Elisabeth Guilels (USSR) | 4. Boris Goldstein (USSR) 5. Marina Kozolupova (USSR) | 6. Mikhail Fichtengolz (USSR) | 7. Lola Bobesco (Romania) | 8. Paul Makhanovitzki (Sweden) 9. Robert Virovay (Hungary) | 10. Angel Reyes (Cuba) | 11. Ricardo Brengola (Italy) | 12. Jean Champeil (France)
Looking into the reasons for the Soviet victory, Flesch concluded that while other governments gave their candidates good wishes, the Russian team was granted support as generous as though the Olympic games were in question. Moscow provided its children with superb instruments to play upon; it sent them to Brussels, together with trainers and accompanists, long before the competition opened so that they could accustom themselves to the atmosphere and come to the trial fresh. The player who obtained the second prize did not, though a Russian, belong to the Soviet team, and had been leading the orchestra at the Vienna Opera the night before he left for Brussels. Flesch admitted the high degree of technical ability of the Russian team, but said that they, like all the others, concentrated too much on the material aspects of music.”
Bobesco benefited from the fact that the Russian participants had to return immediately to USSR after the Ysaÿe Competition led to major performances with Willem Mengelberg, Willem van Otterloo and Ernest Ansermet. In 1938, she found an impresario with Jacques Gisbien, who introduced her to the French pianist Jacques Genty, who had studied with Lazare Lévy. They immediately realised their shared musical sympathies, the friendship, rich with youthful energy, immediately took off with their duo performances of the complete Mozart, Brahms and Schubert violin sonatas cycle across the major cities in France.
Bobesco also teamed up with cellist Antonio Janigro and pianist Dinu Lipatti in a trio. The three of them gave a number of performances in the late 1930s and had works by Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms in their repertoire. Her international career was interrupted by World War II, but Bobesco was finally able to perform in France and Belgium. Her violin Guadagnini 1735 had been loaned to her in 1936 by the French Luthiers Charles Enel after he had noticed her inferior violin. He never asked for the return of the violin. Bobesco travelled between Paris and Brussels during the war. Germans used to take the Guadagnini from its battered, old case, admired it, returned it, sent Bobesco on her way. They did not search the shabby old violin case in the lining of which they would have found messages, Bobesco was carrying between the Belgium underground and the French Maquis, which were rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, called maquisards, during the Occupation of France in World War II. Genty was an active member of the French resistance, and they became married after the liberation of Paris in 1944. After they divorced twelve years later, they continued to play together and stayed good friends.
In 1946, she was invited to perform with Genty in a series “Jeunes talents français” organized by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Philippe de Borbure, who attended one recital, offered them to stay at his Palace close to Brussels. Given this comfortable environment they decided to permanently settle in Belgium.
Her first Berlin appearance was stricken with the worst case of stage fright, she later admitted. This took place on 17 January 1960, playing the Brahms Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. In 1980 she was rediscovered by Tokyo music-lovers and she then had a rewarding late career in Japan. Bobesco was also a professor at the French-language Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles and professor of violin at the Conservatory of Liège (1962-1974). She founded two musical groups in Belgium: in 1958, the Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie in Liège; and in 1991, the string quartet L’Arte del Suono in Brussels.
Bobesco‘s last years were a great hardship on account of her fading eyesight and she died in Sart lez Spa on 4 September 2003.
Source: French radio program “Mémoire retrouvée”. Bobesco interviewed by Anne Marie Réby in 1994.
© Michael Waiblinger 2014
Romanian violinist Lola Bobesco (1921-2003) was a classmate of Ginette Neveu, and a student at the Paris Conservatory where Bobesco’s teacher was the eminent soloist and pedagogue Jules Boucherit. In 1935, seeing Neveu’s name among the entrants, she decided not to enter the Wieniawski Competition but two years she came a very respectable seventh in the Ysaÿe Competition – the winner was David Oistrakh, and Odnoposoff, Elisabeth Gilels and Boris Goldstein took the top four places. Bobesco’s solo debut came in 1936, after which she began a short-lived, if elite, trio with Antonio Janigro and fellow Romanian Dinu Lipatti. She was a courier for the French Resistance during the War after which she resumed her career, often in partnership with her husband, the pianist Jacques Genty. Though they were to divorce they remained friends and continued to perform together. They recorded Fauré’s First Sonata twice, the first time in 1949 and then again in 1977 when they also recorded the second sonata and other smaller pieces. Perhaps her most admired recording, it remains an outstanding example of her art on disc, and also reflects the outstanding rapport she and Genty had with French and Belgian music, as their Lekeu and Franck sonata discs are no less distinguished.
Bobesco suffered terrible stage fright one night in Berlin in 1960 when she performed the Brahms Concerto with Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting. A year later she was in Stuttgart to perform Saint-Seëns’s Third Concerto for radio transmission where no such trouble afflicted her. It was a concerto she recorded commercially in her native Romania with Ionescu-Galante directing the Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra on the Electrecord label. Bobesco had a slightly tense vibrato when she was younger, a point I made when reviewing her Lalo Symphonie Espagnole recording made in 1942 with Bigot conducting (on Malibran). This isn’t so much of a concern twenty years later in Stuttgart where she plays with a degree of charisma and style. Her slides are highly effective, never sleek or ungainly, and she evinces purity of intonation. The close-up recording ensures that a degree of fingerboard clatter can be heard at a few points, especially in the more lyric moments, and when changing bow, but we can also hear plenty of drive and brio, and an authoritative intensity.
Hans Müller-Kray was also on the podium a year later when she played Mozart’s A major concerto with the Stuttgart orchestra. Once again she did leave behind a commercial recording of this, again with the Romanian Radio Symphony, conducted by C Bobesco on Electrecord once again. I’ve never heard it, so perhaps an eagle-eyed reader can confirm who C Bobesco was or was it, by any chance, a misprint for L Bobesco? She did turn to conducting in the second part of her life when living in Brussels, and self-directed performances and recordings with her chamber orchestra. Given the unavailability of her Romanian LPs this Stuttgart performances makes a valuable appendix. She’s not quite so forward in the balance here, but her musicality reveals a buoyant and communicative approach, especially in the intense plateau of the slow movement, which she vests with truly prayerful qualities. The finale is a little hammered out by the orchestra but Bobesco plays adroitly.
Bobesco made a number of German tours in the 1960s. There’s a Vieuxtemps No.5 with Karl Böhm on Audite from 1963 which expands her discography still further. She may not have enjoyed a top-flight career but Bobesco was a searching, assured violinist whose specialism in the Franco-Belgian repertoire should not detract from her command in other areas, such as her Mozart. I do hope Meloclassic has more Bobesco from this period awaiting release.
© Jonathan Woolf