Monday, October 27, 2008


Here it is: Philippe Graffin, Claire Desert and several friends including Tom, in a new CD that is the disc-of-the-book, yet a great deal more besides. Get it now from Onyx Classics as a disc or a download.

Philippe has taken the novel's violin music - much of it concerning cross-currents between Gypsy violin playing and classical - as a starting point for a concept album that encompasses some truly extraordinary stuff. The programme begins with Dohnanyi's Andante rubato alla zingaresca - the closest thing I have come across to my fictional Marc Duplessis's lost concerto movement. We move on to Kreisler, initiating the journey with the Marche miniature viennoise (in New York, the violinist/composer meets our Mimi), and Monti's Csardas with the additional cimbalom effect of Ravel's piano-lutheal, expertly delivered by Claire.

Brahms and his great violinist friend Jozsef Joachim punctuate the programme with four virtuoso Hungarian Dances. And there's Liszt - in the form of something that Philippe suggested by saying, "it is Hungarian, and it is a dance..." - nothing less than the Mephisto Waltz No.1 in a dazzling arrangement for violin solo by Nathan Milstein, who apparently declared it the hardest piece he'd ever played. The gorgeous Romance Oubliee follows.

The disc is effectively a tribute to the great Hungarian violin tradition of the 19th/early 20th centuries - notably Joachim, Hubay, Vecsey, but implicitly also Auer, Flesch and d'Aranyi. Vecsey, who gave the premiere of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, is represented by his own Valse triste, and Hubay by the stunning Hejre Kati, again with piano-lutheal cimbalom effects - the melody is said to date back to the great Gypsy violinist Janos Bihari. And Scarlatescu's Bagatelle, a glorious Romanian Gypsy-style work, is mesmeric, a piece that builds up from a gentle lilt into a trance-like frenzy - it was a favourite of Ginette Neveu, but has been rarely recorded by solo violinists since.

Bartok is absolutely central: the Romanian Dances (which in the book Mimi plays with the composer in 1940) and five of the Violin Duos with Tom (they are played in the novel by our heroine Karina and her would-be lover, Rohan, but for their sake Tom experienced a railway journey almost worthy of Karina's friend Lindy's worst nightmares...that's another story...).

Finally, Hungary goes to France: Debussy's La plus que lente - a long-standing favourite of Philippe's, which was inspired by a Gypsy band performing in a Paris hotel; and a world premiere recording, L'amour - valse bluette, by Arthur Hartmann, an American violinist of Hungarian origins who was a close friend of Debussy's, went with him to hear that Gypsy band and arranged some of his songs for violin and piano. It's muted, decadent and deeply nostalgic. Programme notes by yrs truly can be read on the Onyx site.

Now, as far as I know, it's the first time that anyone has done anything like this: an international soloist making an original recital recording to exist alongside a new contemporary novel. Let alone a programme that is so chock-full of ideas, character, daring, imagination and poetry. It's quite an overwhelming thing... I'm deeply grateful to Philippe and Onyx for the tie-in - but the CD is an amazing production in its own right.

We hope that you will enjoy it.

UPDATE, 2 November: Review from The Independent on Sunday by Anna Picard