Notes and Editorial Reviews
Variations in e
Hagai Shaham (vn); Arnon Erez (pn)
HYPERION 67663 (66:08)
The infrequent appearance on recordings of all Brahms’s
in Joseph Joachim’s ingenious and idiomatic arrangements for violin may be a sign of the times. As did David K. Nelson, I first
encountered the set in Robert Gerle’s Westminster LP (19193 and, in stereo, 17093); I could sense the music’s robust vigor, though Gerle’s wiry performances hardly realized it fully. I also had the opportunity to review, in 31:2, the re-release of Aaron Rosand’s complete reading (which David had earlier reviewed in 16:5 as Biddulph LAW 003) and to revisit Marat Bisengaliev’s collection on Naxos 8.553026, which Nelson had reviewed in 19:5. Like Shaham, Bisengaliev and Rosand took the dances in order (Gerle had arranged them in groups he thought more effective in performance). Like Bisengaliev, Shaham has included music by Joachim himself to round out the program (Bisengaliev added two slighter works, an Andantino and a Romance, while Rosand’s disc of
complements one of Brahms’s violin sonatas).
Brahms drew the melodic material for the
, as Jenö Hubay had done in his similarly conceived
Scènes de la Csárda
, from popular “gypsy” music of the era, rather than from authentic folk materials of the kind that Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók would later explore. Calum MacDonald suggests in his notes that even Eduard Reményi, whom Brahms had accompanied on tour, accused him of plagiarism in the
. But, as MacDonald has also pointed out, Brahms incorporated the tunes in settings unmistakably his own. And Hagai Shaham has taken the process one step further, internalizing the popular idiom as he did in recording Hubay’s shorter works. Rosand could strike dissonant sparks in
like the Fourth and Sixth; and, if Shaham’s readings sound less flinty, they’re no less exuberant: he takes advantage of opportunities to pepper his readings with pregnant pauses, occasionally telegraphing a note only after he’s made the listener aware of its coming. In fact, though the pieces themselves may be highly virtuosic (on second thought, forget the “may be”), Shaham hardly allows these built-in difficulties to be obvious, so intent does he seem in communicating their impassioned rhetoric. It may be relevant that even pyrotechnical works in this style, such as Joachim’s “Hungarian” Concerto, weave technical effects into a lush symphonic fabric so artfully as almost to draw attention away from them. At times, of course, there’s just no way of hiding the light under a bushel; and so, as in the brilliant but brief 18th
, it occasionally dominates, with a striking effect.
The mood changes with the somber opening of Joachim’s Variations (it will later turn brighter, the set’s finale sounding very similar to that of the
). MacDonald relates that Joachim may have simply felt himself outclassed by Brahms, slowly abandoning his compositional aspirations despite Brahms’s entreaties to the contrary. If the “Hungarian” Concerto sounds prolix (Rosand made cuts in his recorded performance on Vox—re-released several times—without disturbing unduly the music’s continuity), the Variations seem more disciplined but no less impressive from a musical or a violinistic point of view, and Shaham explores Joachim’s more austere (musically if not technically) terrain with an insight equal to that he displays in Brahms’s more extroverted selections.
Arnon Erez plays the piano parts of Brahms’s pieces with a liveliness and sympathy approaching Shaham’s; and that’s hardly irrelevant in view of Joachim’s having arranged the
from Brahms’s original piano pieces. In Joachim’s Variations, however, he comes more fully into his own as a full partner in the more conversational working out of the thematic material. Hyperion’s recorded sound, from the Jerusalem Music Center on June 3–5, 2007, seems close-up, particularly faithful, and at the same time particularly straightforward, with little reverberation coming between the instrument and the listener.
Those who have already acquired Rosand’s or Bisengaliev’s performances will still need these; and the fascinating Joachim Variations may provide just the incentive to do so. Urgently recommended to collectors of all stripes.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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