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Paul Makanowitzky & Noël Lee

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The US magazine High Fidelity wrote in July 1959 about a record of Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano performed by Makanowitzky and Lee “Both these performers are very skilled and sensitive young artists, and their collaboration here is an impressive display of their attainments. One need only compare these recordings with some others by musicians of considerably greater reputation to find that in matters of refinement Makanowitzky plays with a silken bow and unerring taste, while Lee is not just an accompanist but a colleague of equal gifts. The performances on the initial record of the pair make it one of the best buys of the year”. Our discovery of rare German radio recordings brings their artistry back into the present.

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PAUL MAKANOWITZKY and NOËL LEE play Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Strawinsky, Schönberg

CD 1

1-4. Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 [26:14]
I. Allegro con brio [08:09]
II. Adagio cantabile [09:19]
III. Scherzo. Allegro – Trio [03:21]
IV. Finale. Allegro [05:24]
5-8. Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 [24:36]
I. Allegro moderato [08:08]
II. Adagio espressivo [06:24]
III. Scherzo. Allegro – Trio [01:35]
IV. Poco Allegretto [08:28]
9-11. Schumann: Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op. 105 [13:28]
I. Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck [05:54]
II. Allegretto [03:41]
III. Lebhaft [03:52]
Paul Makanowitzky · violin
Noël Lee · piano

Recorded ∙ 23 June 1961 ∙ Ettlingen ∙ Schloss ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

CD 2

1-5. Stravinsky: Duo concertant for Violin and Piano [14:56]
I. Cantilene [02:41]
II. Eglogue I [02:02]
III. Eglogue II [03:04]
IV. Gigue [04:13]
V. Dithyrambe [02:54]
Paul Makanowitzky · violin
Noël Lee · piano

Recorded ∙ 23 June 1961 ∙ Ettlingen ∙ Schloss ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

6-8. Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78 [19:23]
I. Vivace, ma non troppo [10:18]
II. Adagio [08:03]
III. Allegro molto moderato [07:17]
9. Schönberg: Fantasie for Violin and Piano, Op. 47 [06:58]
Paul Makanowitzky · violin
Noël Lee · piano

Recorded ∙ 29 March 1963 ∙ Bruchsal ∙ Schloss ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

Bonus:
10. Mozart: 6 Variations ‘Hélas, j’ai perdu mon amant’, KV.374b/KV.360 [04:42]
11. Strawinsky: Jeu des princesses avec les pommes d’or (Scherzo) [01:57]
12. Mondonville: Violin Sonata in C Major [07:09]

Recorded ∙ Late 1940s ∙ Voice of America Recording ∙ A355 ∙ Studio Recording
Paul Makanowitzky · violin
Jerzy Vitas · piano

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“You will see, he will go farther than most of us.” · Jacques Thibaud, presenting his young student to the legendary music pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.

Paul Makanowitzky was born in Stockholm on June 20, 1920 to Russian parents. By 1924 they had moved to Paris, where the four-year-old began violin studies at the Conservatoire Russe de Paris with Ivan Galamian, the Iranian-born Armenian pedagogue. Galamian was a violin student of Lucien Capet in Paris, but found he was a better teacher than performer. He taught at the Russian Conservatory from 1924 to 1937. Later on, he brought Makanowitzky to The Juilliard School in New York as his first assistant. Together, they formed some of the most prodigious violinists of a generation, including Itzakh Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Miriam Fried, Kyung Wha Chung and Michael Rabin. But that was later; now it was 1929, and Paul Makanowitzky was ready to take the stage in Paris.

The Prodigy: The nine-year-old played his debut recital in the Salle Gaveau. Critics and the public naturally expected a well-rehearsed puppet. To their astonishment, they discovered a true musician. He was dubbed a prodigy among prodigies. There followed appearances throughout Europe. In the plethora of praise from the critics what is most striking is the repetition of phrases rarely associated with child performers: stupefying authority – remarkable elegance – sensitivity – musicality – intense authority – purity of style. One reviewer wrote: “One sees a child and hears a great artist.” After solo appearances in Europe, Makanowitzky made his New York debut in 1937.

High-Risk Bowing: Makanowitzky’s unique tone quality has many sources, certainly including his own innate musical intelligence. But I think more than any other technical factor, it is Makanowitzky’s bow arm that produces his unique sound. Indeed, he refused all compromises, unwilling to sacrifice the fast bow and long phrasing of the French master Jacques Thibaud, even while adding the longer, more powerful bow-stroke and careful attention to the sounding point taught by Galamian. By refusing to sacrifice either speed or power, thereby pushing the limits of control with every note, Makanowitzky’s bow technique is uncompromisingly high-risk, resulting in a focus, intensity and resonance that sounds to me as though he is sending the notes soaring off into space. Makanowizky related a Galamian anecdote to one of his classes at Michigan: After a concert, Mr. Galamian had come back stage to share his reactions. After some general praise, at which the young player was beaming, on his way out Mr. Galamian said to Makanowitzky, as though an afterthought, “A little thin, though.” He turned red, and for the next five years all he did was pump up his sound. One of his students once told me his copy of the Dont Etudes had bullet holes in it.
This bow technique is what he taught. Some students found it alluring and worked to master it; some did not. One former student of his told me that, in August 1987, when she was soloing in Mozart’s G-Major Concerto, she was approached after the first rehearsal by one of the orchestra’s violinists, who said “Excuse me, are you a student of Paul Makanowitzky?” She was surprised, but replied she was. He then said “I recognized the bow arm.”

Musicianship: As important to the technical points is the influence of Nadia Boulanger. The great piano teacher and music genius taught him to respect music more than fame. Indeed, she only respected music. Whether or not anything was a commercial success was never of the slightest interest to her. Paul Makanowitzky said once: “I can say with pride, but without vanity, that at age twelve I was Nadia Boulangers’s favorite pupil. I owe her honesty, rigorism, and frankness. From the inception of our frequent, intense work together, I ceased to be the solitary care-ridden child trained for the stage, thrust onto the high wire of a velocity often beyond my means and definitely outside any musical conscientiousness.” This uncompromising musical attitude was both Makanowitzky’s genius and his nemesis. He always put the composer’s intentions before his own convenience or subjectivity. It was a kind of fanaticism, but not an egocentric one: Rather, he was the total slave of the score. He once told his class at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that he did not slow down for the final notes of the Brahms Violin Concerto, because Brahms did not write a retardando; but then he added, perhaps in a sign of maturity, he probably should have. Interestingly, when I listen to his Brahmskonzert, I ‘hear’ a retardando even though he does not actually slow down: His bow control is so complete, his dynamics so subtle, that he is able to capture the feeling without violating the score. After one New York Town Hall concert, a couple went back stage to thank the young artist. They asked him about his violin. He blushed, because the Stradivari was not his, but borrowed. So they bought it for him.

War Time Patriotism: In 1942, though still a Swedish subject and thus a neutral, to the consternation of his managers and Galamian, Makanowitzky volunteered to fight for America in World War II. In 1944 he was a gunner in B-24s, bombing Eastern Europe from bases in Italy. At that time, the majority of planes never returned. One day he also did not return but he was fortunately able to parachute out of his burning plane into Romania, where he was held as a prisoner of war for six months. The survivors of the prison camp were greeted as heroes in the US after their dramatic rescue, but Makanowitzky was soon back in Europe making forays into Soviet-held East Germany for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), where he met his wife Barbara in Germany. At war’s end, Makanowitzky found himself in New York with three hundred dollars in his pocket – his discharge pay – and no future. Untrained in other fields, he turned back to the violin, rebuilding his life as a soloist. He played concerts with Pierre Monteux, Paul Paray, Vladimir Golschmann and Sergei Koussevitzky among others. He was acclaimed … he was unhappy. As the critic Era Maclean put it years later when Makanowitzky was playing with Noël Lee in a duo: “Paul Makanowitzky could have had a brilliant solo career as a violinist but he was obviously much too interested in music to do so.” After 1967, he ceased performing in public and devoted his time to teaching.

An Inspiring, but Difficult Teacher: In 1966, Makanowitzky accepted to become Galamian’s first assistant at Juilliard and Meadowmount, Galamian’s summer violin school in the Adirondack Mountains. Violinists from the world over came to study with Galamian and Makanowitzky at Juilliard and at the Meadowmount School of Music, Galamian’s summer music camp, affectionately known to its students as “The Auschwitz of the Adirondacks.” In 1970, Mak (as his students usually called him … but not to his face) ditched Juilliard for Ann Arbor when the University of Michigan in offered him a position there. During his thirteen-year tenure, he also conducted the University Chamber Orchestra and the University Philharmonia Orchestra. As a teacher, Mak could be extremely harsh and demanding. During the intermission in one student’s graduate recital, he went back stage and said to him, “You better get it together.” He spoke a formal style of English, with phrases like ‘Miss ________, I see great vistas opening up before you’. But in the next lesson he was just as likely to suggest that Miss ________ seek out a career as a waitress. Students all-too-often would leave his studio in tears. Many quit. In 1983 Makanowitzky retired, sold his Strad and moved to a beautifully converted barn in a tiny village, St. Julien de Civry, in the French Département of Saône-et-Loire, near the beautiful town of Charolles in Burgundy. He gave his bow to Jacques Français, the renowned violin dealer, for sale on commission. My wife at the time was a Mak student, and Français liked her playing (so did I). He kindly sold us the bow at Makanowitzky’s price, taking no commission on the sale. The bow, which Mak had nicknamed Big Bertha, was actually a viola bow. Français told me he was never able to determine exactly who had made it, but he did break up a trio of bows to give it to Makanowitzky. He never taught by demonstration, but always related technique to musical effect. He never used the ‘play it like this’ method. I had the profound honor to witness his teaching on several occasions, after he was retired and living in France (I was never invited to his studio class, although I would sit outside the door sometimes and try to listen). After playing the Bach Chaconne for him, my then wife heard this: “Well, Miss _______, I assume you have not come here to have me discuss all those things that are going well … So perhaps we should direct our attention ….” And that was all the praise; but it was enough. Mak had analyzed the relationship between technique and its musical results to an extraordinary degree. When a passage of the Chaconne was presented again, he asked if she had intended an accent on a certain up-bow. She replied she had. He said to try it again, “and try keeping your pinky on the stick this time.” She did, and even I, a non-musician, heard an astounding improvement. Mak did not teach interpretation; he taught conscious violin playing, which was also how he played.

Chamber Music: In 1954, Makanowitzky discovered the pianist and composer Noël Lee in Paris at a concert of the baritone Doda Conrad, who was another Boulanger pupil. Noël Lee became his duo partner and they concertized exclusively for ten years, between 1954 and 1964. They did not socialize together much; Noël Lee was gay, Makanowitzky was straight. But they achieved a total musical respect and understanding, and Mak was able to prepare and project his vision of music.

Nadia Boulanger wrote the following comment for the dust jacket of one of the Makanowitzky/Lee records: “These artists refuse every kind of temptation – searching for effect, facile emotion and egoism. They have attempted distribution of light and shade without diminishing the importance of a note, a rest, a rhythm, or a line. The manner in which they have attained their objectives brings back the memory of Raoul Pugno and Eugene Ysaye. The better the work is executed, the more likely we are to overlook the difficulties entailed, the exigencies fulfilled, and the ear required to permit the work to appear in its full sovereignty. To approach perfection in these matters is, in a sense, to negate one’s self.”

In my opinion, the great French genius has defined in that last sentence the achievement of Makanowitzky and Lee; they have managed to negate themselves, to ‘get out of the way’ and allow Beethoven and Bach (and Brahms, and Mozart, in Mak’s solo recordings with orchestra) to speak directly to me, without the filter of the performer’s ego. Zen in the art of Music Making. Again, Boulanger: “In combining intuition and logic, [Makanowitzky] has achieved this equilibrium without which great achievements cannot be conceived. He has everything: sonority, bowing, phrasing, rhythmic impulse, nobility of conception, concentration of thought, dignity and enthusiasm.” Boulanger goes on to state that Makanowitzky and Lee render desirable what would normally be thought impossible – listening to the same interpretation over and over again. The duo played a series of concerts at Salle Gaveau in Paris, recorded all the Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach piano-violin sonatas (the Bach recordings won them the Grand Prix du Disque in 1959), and performed in Europe as well as throughout North and South America.

Paul Makanowitzky died February 24, 1998 in Freeport, Maine. Noël Lee died on July 15, 2013 in Paris. I am personally grateful to whatever gods may be that these two musicians lived, met and recorded together.

Notes by Jerry Wechsler, © 2014

Nadia Boulanger on Paul Makanowitzky and Noël Lee: Paul Makanowitzky, après une enfance miraculeuse (je vois Jacques Thibaud me presenter un beau petit garcon et me dire: “Vous verrez, il ira plus loin que la plupart d’entre nous”) est devenu un artiste d’une superbe maturité, un homme qui “trouve par bonheure et cherche par industrie” tous les éléments de son art. Dans la combinaison de l’intuition et la raison, il a attaint cet équilibre sans lequel ne se peuvent concevoir les grandes realizations. Il a tout: la sonorité, l’archet, la largeur de la respiration, l’impulsion rhythmic, la noblesse de la conception, la concentration de la pensée, la dignité, l’enthousiasme. Noël Lee est un des plus beaux musiciens que j’aie rencontré. Compositeur d’une réelle personalité, il a la délicatesse et la force, la perception aiguë des resources de son instrument, le sens de la hiérarchie des valeurs et une comprehension totale des oeuvres. Paul Makanowitzky et Noël Lee rendent desirable ce qui par essence semble inconcevable: l’audition indéfiniment répétée d’une interpretation identique. Refuser les tentations de toutes sortes: recherché de l’effet, des émois faciles, du singulier, pour faire apparaître la pensée fondamentale, les volumes essentiels, distribuer l’ombre et la lumière, sans perdre de vue que chaque note, chaque silence, chaque rythme, chaque ligne a une importance, tel a été leur objectif.

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Article number: MC 2025 ∙ Double CD
UPC barcode: 791154054154
Recording dates: 1961-1963
Release date: March 201
Total timing: CD 1: 64:19 ∙ CD 2: 61:21

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Jerry Wechsler
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Jerry Wechsler Collection
With special thanks to Jerry Wechsler
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic