Yuval Waldman had a series of CDs by Pearl called The Recorded Violin: the History of the Violin on Record. This was two volumes of names that were legendary and familiar and sometimes obscure but for some reason noteworthy (pun semi-intended).A number of years ago my teacher
He leant them to me and said, "there's even a recording of my old teacher René Benedetti."
I did indeed know the name in conjunction to an article I had read about Jean Jacques Kanterow. Apparently Rene was a great violinist who could play anything and played everywhere once. He seemed not interested in an international career and preferred to stay in France. Yuval mentioned to me that Benedetti was like a breathe of fresh air. He was funny, sarcastic and above all very French. He taught with his violin in hand and demonstrated a lot. You would play and then he would play. It was a way to get the style. The phrase he used a lot in was “comme ça.”
Lessons were not just about music. Sometimes he would serve wine in the lessons. One of Yuval’s assignments was to go to the museum and report back on what he had seen. His belief was that you had to understand the finer things in order to understand music.
Henryk Szeryng wanted to study with Benedetti as a student, but his class was full. And Szeryng regarded him as one of the top French teachers. That’s pretty high praise! He did have some really great students: Jean-Jacques Kantorow and Christian Ferras among them.
What I didn’t know at that time was that Benedetti was a VERY important violinist. Milhaud dedicated his arrangement of the orchestral score Le Boeuf sur le toit to him and he had connections to new music of the time.
So we have some recordings of him on Pearl and other niche labels (Symposium and Melo Classic have great cd’s that feature him). It is indeed great playing and ever so stylish. According to Yuval even in old age he could play supremely well. He liked playing Paganini and would do so like a young man who enjoyed noodling. Though we don’t have a recording of the Caprices we do have his editing for them. The edition is still in print by Edition Choudens.
In the Pearl CD set, Benedetti is represented by a piece by Zoubok entitled Deux Minutes de Jazz.
For years I looked for this piece. It has even been a thread on violinist.com, but alas no luck. I looked in libraries everywhere and talked to anyone who might help, friends in high places, and more importantly, friends in low places. Even the name of the composer doesn't register. I think someone on violinist.com thread came up with the theory that it must have been written with a nom de plume perhaps by the pianist or perhaps Benedetti himself.
Either way, it is a charming little piece with plenty of notes. My friend Leo Ficks described it as “Paganini meets ragtime.” Much like the Heifetz White Christmas, I was resigned to the fact that there would be no sheet music available unless I wrote it out. But this is WAY above my music notation and aural skills. So it was that I enlisted the help of my friend, the noted (have you caught on that I like puns?) composer Paul Levi.
Over lunch (as most of my projects are consummated), I convinced him to sit down, listen to it and write it out. It took him some time but he did a magnificent job and I believe every note is where it is supposed to be. There are small things that are in question. I believe that an overtone here and there may be the reason for certain effects and I believe that sometimes the rhythms could change for variety.
Now that it was notated, I now had the unenviable task of learning the notes. Lots of double stops and effects lead to lots of practice and imagine that the recording was done in one take. Benedetti’s technique is really quite frightening. He can negotiate the double stops with ease and at break neck speed. The pizzicatos are clear and even, and there is this great energy and style that is infectious.
I practiced it with pianists who would run through it with me. It is not an easy piano part and for that reason, I think that the piano part was written by a pianist and not by Benedetti. I convinced my friend Alex Beyer to play the piece with me. His incredible playing mechanism made short work of this intricate piano part and it is with great pleasure that this piece can now be heard live once again!
I dedicate this video and performance to my beloved teacher Yuval Waldman.
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