When, soon after the Second World War, Yehudi Menuhin was approached by the Hollywood producer Paul Gordon, the violinist immediately saw the potential of having some of his performances caught on film for posterity. He was so enthusiastic that it seems he worked for Gordon's Concert Film Corporation for very little money, banking on the movie making a profit and paying him royalties, such as he received for his sound recordings. His father, a much better businessman, was appalled, especially as he felt that Yehudi was dirtying his hands in having anything to do with Hollywood. The film, entitled Concert Magic, and featuring other artists besides Menuhin, was shot in the last months of 1947 at the studio formerly used by the comedian Charles Chaplin. Released about a year later, it was reasonably well received, but never caught on. Television was beginning to take over this sort of territory, and as a medium it was better able to present musical performances with immediacy and flair. Concert Magic has been virtually unseen for many years.
Yet Paul Gordon and his namesake Paul Ivano, the cameraman on the project, did an excellent job of presenting short pieces of music in a direct, unfussy manner. The film is very watchable, even though the other solo performers are not in Menuhin's class: the Polish pianist Jakob Gimpel, one of three brothers who at one time played as a trio, is some-what matter-of-fact in the way he delivers his solos; and the US contralto Eula Beal does not suggest that she is going to become a household word (nor did she). There is the usual quota of Hollywoodisms: the way the selections are introduced seems calculated to put a mass audience off, rather than convert it to classical music, and silly mistakes creep in. The pianist Adolph Baller – whose fingers were broken by the Nazis but who managed to recover well enough to be Menuhin's accompanist for a number of years – is said to be playing in the Bach prelude, which is for solo violin.
Fifty-one years later, Yehudi Menuhin talks about the experience of recording these unique films.
Hollywood Symphony orchestra, Antal Dorati - "Concert Magic"
Featuring Yehudi Menuhin