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Henry Merckel

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Henry Merckel never recorded either of these two concertos commercially; another excellent feature of the broadcast material being that it allows one to hear musicians on the wing in repertoire largely unfamiliar from their studio discographies. He juggled a long-term career as concertmaster with solo and chamber music responsibilities. This release was carefully considered and none of these French radio performances have been published before and aims to bring his artistry back into the present.


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HENRY MERCKEL plays Brahms, Bach and Paganini

1-3. BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.77 [39:18]
4. BACH: Gavotte en rodeau, Partita No.3, BWV 1006 (Encore) [03:52]

Recorded · 10 December 1953 · Toulouse · Théâtre du Capitole · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording
Henry Merckel · violin
Association des Concerts Symphoniques de Toulouse
Jean Fournet · conductor

5-7. PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, Op.7 [29:14]
Recorded · 15 December 1958 · Paris · Salle Pleyel · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording
Henry Merckel · violin
Orchestre Radio Symphonique de Paris
Manuel Rosenthal · conductor

Additional Information

Article number: MC 2011
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050330
Total time: 72:76

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Christof Honecker
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Henri Jean Paul Marie Merckel was born on December 22, 1897 in Paris. He trained on violin with Guillaume Remy at the Paris Conservatory, and there he took first prize in 1912. In 1922, he founded his string quartet “Quatuor Merckel” among them Robert Volant as second violinist, his sister Alice Merckel as violist, and Lucien Kirsch as cellist, who later was replaced by Adolphe Barbezat. Like many another talented violinist he became concertmaster whilst also managing to pursue a necessarily limited career as a soloist. For most years of his career, Merckel spent his time as a first chair in various French orchestral ensembles.

Merckel Concerts Straram - 1930

In 1923, Merckel joined the newly established Orchestre Straram in Paris, first as a violinist in the first violin section and later as 1st solo violinist. Walter Straram’s orchestra emphasized contemporary music, contrasting with the traditional repertoire associated with the other leading orchestra in Paris. The orchestra was closed after the death of Straram in 1933.


During his time with the Orchestre Straram, Merckel performed the premiere of three works for violin:
– Stan Golestan: Rapsodie concertante, 8 March 1928
– Jean Rivier: Burlesque pour violon et orchestre, 13 March 1930
– Robert Casadesus: Concerto pour violon, 13 April 1933

On 18th May 1929, Merckel was voted in an open competition for the position of 1st concertmaster of the Société des Concerts Du Conservatoire under the direction of Philippe Gaubert. Merckel played five seasons, taking a sudden unexplained leave in 1934, and then disappearing altogether. Roland Charmy would be designated his successor in May 1935.

Merckel was unpopular with the orchestra from the beginning. Already in June 1930 the committee received a petition complaining of his supercilious attitude at a concert of Jascha Heifetz, the first recorded incident in a long series.

His stand partner Luquin, as 2nd violin solo, insisted on changing desks and longer having their names appear contiguously on the program. In 1930, he also joined the Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra as a concertmaster and stayed until his retirement in 1960.


After World War II, the French pianist Marie-Louise Pugnet-Caillard became his preferred duo partner and they performed with decent success in Germany, Switzerland and France. Both recorded for Polydor several works including Ravel’s Violin Sonata, Schubert’s Duo D.574 and Sonatina D.384, and Milhaud’s Pastorale. He also led a trio with Jean Hubeau and Paul Tortelier and made the first recording of the complete version of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole as well as this first commercial recording of the Hindemith Concerto. On 5th February 1950, he premiered the Jean Rivier: Concerto pour violon. Although he was a major figure in Parisian music, he did not have the career or reputation of his compatriots Jacques Thibaud and Zino Francescatti.

Merckel became a professor at the Higher National Conservatory for Music of Paris (CNSMP) in the 1960s and he died on December 10, 1969 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

Musicweb International Classical Review June 2014

Less fêted then Thibaud, Neveu and Francescatti, Henry Merckel was still an important presence on the French concert stage. He juggled a long-term career as concertmaster with solo and chamber music responsibilities. There is a series of significant recordings on 78 and LP, a number of which I’ve reviewed. Some may remember the trio he led with Paul Tortelier and Jean Hubeau. I hadn’t realised that Merckel was something of a prickly character, and that a succession of petitions were presented by fellow orchestral players protesting at his supercilious behaviour.

This release, devoted to live performances given by Merckel in the 1950s, is the first in a series of discs from Meloclassic to which I’ve listened. There are some astonishing things in their catalogue, which is artist-based and features, largely, broadcast material from the later 1930s to the early 1960s. Many of the artists, like Merckel, are French and much comes from French radio recordings.

Merckel never recorded either of these two concertos commercially; another excellent feature of the broadcast material being that it allows one to hear musicians on the wing in repertoire largely unfamiliar from their studio discographies. Meloclassic likes to leave in studio announcements, which adds to the intimacy and immediacy of the presentation. I suspect in the case of the Brahms it has been truncated to a mention of the soloist’s name – with details about the concerto excised – because there’s only the smallest of gaps before the music starts. The conductor is Jean Fournet who directs the Toulouse orchestra in December 1953. The opening orchestral paragraphs are strong, sinewy, and brassy with a fiery quality that generates impetus and sustains momentum throughout the concerto. Merckel’s tone is still very recognisable, slim and full of expressive gesture, supported by a facile though by now not cast-iron technique. Parts of the cadenza sound a bit effortful but also very characterful and personalised. The distinctive oboe in the second movement – Fritz Kreisler sometimes gently bowed to Leon Goossens at this point – ushers in some sweetly communicative solo playing, and whilst orchestral ensemble isn’t the tightest the music-making is lyrically persuasive. Fournet insists on some strikingly heavy rhythms in the finale – very unusually emphatic – and Merckel responds in dextrous fashion. It’s the violinist who announces his encore, the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Third Partita.

Five years later we find Merckel teamed with the Paris Radio Symphony Orchestra and Manuel Rosenthal for a performance of Paganini’s Concerto No.2. The announcer’s introduction is longer here than in the case of the Brahms. The sound is also more immediate in Paris than it had been in Toulouse, with a typically edgy Parisian string tone and quite a close recording. This exposes some frailties in the wristy Merckel’s playing. He was by now in his early 60s and whilst technically past his best, and with a tone audibly thinning, he retains a real communicative allure. He vests the slow movement with a degree of operatic allure, and in the finale he brings drollery to the harmonics and left hand pizzicati, and plays with real panache.

A few other points: Merckel recorded two caprices on Vega LP, but no other examples of his Paganini were preserved. He recorded no Brahms at all. He recorded the Menuets from the Third Partita on 78, but that is the extent of his Bach on disc. All of which makes this release the more valuable.

One other small technical point I should mention is that throughout some of the radio broadcasts to which I’ve listened, and here, there is a gap between the end of one movement and the resumption of the next in which the live ambience is cut off and resumes with the next track. I prefer the ambient concert noise to be maintained throughout and not cut off and turned back on.

Presentation is in a digipack with notes ‘tipped’ in – with excellent photographs, by the way, and helpful text, in English in the case of my copy. Surveying the available discs and seeing details of some of those to come – many violinists, chamber ensembles and pianists – I have no hesitation in saying that this is potentially the most exciting tranche of broadcast material to be made available in many years.

© Jonathan Woolf

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