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Brahms: Violin Concerto, Double Concerto / Kremer, Maisky, Bernstein

Bernstein / Brahms / Kremer / Maisky / Vpo
Release Date: 10/09/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000983409  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Gidon KremerMischa Maisky
Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Violin Concerto. Double Concerto for Violin and Cello & Gidon Kremer (vn); Mischa Maisky (vc); Leonard Bernstein, cond; Vienna PO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000983409 (DVD: 96:44)

& Introductions by Bernstein

Humphrey Burton’s movies of Leonard Bernstein rapturously reexamining Brahms for the sesquicentennial of the composer’s birth show their age visually, though Deutsche Grammophon has Read more converted the original stereophonic sound to “authentic 5.1 surround sound.” While Kremer had recorded the Violin Concerto twice before, in March 1976 with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic and, again, 20 years later (to the month) for Angel with Harnoncourt and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, his recording on video, live, exposes a number of warts (I remember another Kremer performance on video that I watched on television about 24 years ago, but I don’t remember the orchestra or conductor—just Kremer’s quirky but compelling way with the work). While he occasionally produces a “squeak” when a string fails to speak, his chaste but deliberate portamentos bring unexpected grace to the first movement’s angular leaps. His vibrato is somewhat narrow, but fluent; and he doesn’t turn it on and off, as his teacher, Oistrakh, has been accused of doing, whether for effect or not. While Kremer’s body twists and turns in unballetic gestures, his technique itself has extruded extraneous motion—the micromechanics look exceptionally efficient. Beside the more muscularly expressive Stern, the more sonorous Oistrakh, and the white-hot Kogan (or the razor-sharp Heifetz), Kremer seems quirky—a Glenn Gould of the violin. Yet every phrase serves as a transparent window to deep underlying reflection. Henry Roth contended that Kremer is no Szigeti; and it’s at least true that they didn’t look alike when they played. Kremer lacks Szigeti’s magisterial presence, and unquestionably his high right elbow represents a polar opposite in tone production to that of the older violinist, who looked as though he’d been stuffed into a sardine can, his right stuck to his hip. Still, he shares Szigeti’s independence in repertoire and his courage in sticking to his interpretive guns. For example, he plays, as a cadenza, Reger’s Prelude, op. 117/1. Still, Roth’s less than completely favorable assessment might stimulate a listener to question whether Kremer’s work reveals a powerful musical personality or simply a great deal of “deep thought.” However that may be, after a reserved opening, Kremer enters sweetly, though marred by a passing high A that’s noticeably flat, and that can hardly be ignored (I’ve tried to decide just what role he might have intended this flattened third to play in the movement’s F Major tonality), at least until his soaring and introspective reading dispels its memory. At the end, Kremer seems to have run out of bow, with only about half an inch of hair to finish the high F. Could Kremer and Bernstein be second-guessing Brahms? If the third movement sounds Allegro giocoso , with all the suggested élan, it doesn’t pay such strict heed to the cautionary addition, ma non troppo vivace . Yet at this tempo, his off-the-string passages sparkle with effervescent clarity.

Where does Bernstein, to whom Deutsche Grammophon’s series has been dedicated, stand? His remarks before the Concerto (about 15 minutes) and before the Double Concerto (less than four) may seem more sound than sense as he purports to probe dualities in Brahms, whose music he characterizes as “rich, warm, deep, and satisfying,” yet “torn by oppositions” and revealing “tensions” more numerous than those faced by Bernstein’s contemporary composers, who have been involved in “reassessment of tonality in our time.” Certainly Bernstein is majestic and thoughtful throughout, cavorting more on the podium than in the music. Humphrey Burton’s videography cuts from instrument to instrument, and to Bernstein when nobody has a solo. Conveniently, he’s always “on.”

Kremer and Maisky take the stage confidently in the opening of the Double Concerto (which Kremer would record again with Hagen and Harnoncourt for Teldec in 1997); together they sustain drama throughout the first movement (and perhaps that’s why the moments of relaxation sound especially poignant). And in the end the whole, from the orchestral playing to Bernstein’s and the soloists’ collaboration, gives the impression of richness and warmth (illustrating Bernstein’s discussion). About an hour and 12 minutes into the video, the arpeggios seem to float upward in a way that transcends time (or description)—one of several such moments throughout the Concerto. The second movement, in fact, contains several such passages of great stillness. In the third movement, the soloists contrast strongly with the orchestra’s denser symphonic textures with their percolating passagework and tantalizingly piquant restatements of the theme.

For those simply mesmerized by Bernstein’s voice and manner, there’s a rich serving of it in the introductions (and in a four-minute “trailer” to Deutsche Grammophon’s Mahler series with Bernstein), but Kremer’s way with Brahms deserves the kind of documentation it has received, and can be strongly recommended, lapses and all.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102 "Double" by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin), Mischa Maisky (Cello)
Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Austria 

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