Notes and Editorial Reviews
BRAHMS Violin Concerto.1 Concerto for Violin and Cello, “Double”2 • Georg Kulenkampff (vn); Enrico Mainardi (vc); Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, cond;1 Carl Schuricht, cond;2 Berlin PO;1 O de la Suisse Romande2 • DUTTON 9795, mono (71:17)
"Georg Kulenkampff, who died of polio in 1948 at the age of 50, represented, according to Tully Potter, the Romantic strain in German violin-playing (Adolf Busch, with whom Menuhin studied the German repertoire, from this point of view, would have represented the Classical strain). Kulenkampff also came to exemplify the art of violin-playing in Germany more generally as other notable violinists fled the country (which he finally also did in 1943). During the Nazi regime, he proved himself no
mainstream swimmer by insisting on performing the banned Mendelssohn’s Concerto.
Kulenkampff recorded Brahms’s Violin Concerto on June 21, 1937. (Heifetz about the same time would make his first recording with Koussevitzky, which Victor didn’t issue—his later one with the same conductor and orchestra from 1939 remains one of my favorites.) The tempo of the first movement seems brisk; in the ever rhythmically alert passagework, he plays with a strong, though somewhat wiry tone (at least it seems that way in this and other recordings I’ve heard), and realizes a majestic view of the solo part, never giving ground to the orchestra. In addition, he brings a strong individuality to Joachim’s cadenza (he traces his lineage to the Master through Willy Hess). Although he may have begun his career as concertmaster of the Bremen Orchestra, his playing exhibits a more pronounced profile than has usually been associated with that role. For example, he combines strength with refined sensibility almost ideally in the famous ethereal passage after the cadenza. The slow movement brings a similar combination of strength and sensitivity, neither the violinist nor the conductor lingering to affect Romantic postures. Kulenkampff generates considerable excitement in the finale, with laser-like sharpness of articulation in the staccato passagework. The recorded sound presents an exciting portrait of the artist, with the orchestral sound marginally less clearly defined, leaving the accompaniment seeming more nimble than massive.
The cellist in Brahms’s “Double” Concerto, Enrico Mainardi, had played in the piano trio Kulenkampff formed with Edwin Fischer when the violinist taught in Lucerne after leaving Germany. The recorded sound, from July 8, 1947, presents a more vibrant impression of the soloists’ tonal beauty (Mainardi sounds warm and spacious, with Kulenkampff richer in tonal variety and subtlety than he appeared in the Brahms Concerto, while the strength that I’ve noted there remains undiminished); and while the orchestral strings occasionally sound somewhat strident, other individual groups, such as the woodwinds, appear more fully in the round. The performance of the first movement indulges in a sort of poetic relaxation, though the momentum remains strong throughout. The soloists’ congenial exchanges cement the impression of this work as a descendent of the Baroque concerto grosso, with a chamber-like concertino group. The mood softens further in the slow movement, which sounds both lusher and more openheartedly Romantic. The finale’s slower tempo (more non troppo than vivace, perhaps) extends the atmosphere of the slow movement into the last one, although Schuricht’s angular tutti and the soloists’ sharply defined passagework (despite some ungainly moments toward the end) forge a distinctive identity for that movement as well.
With the “Double” Concerto in recorded sound sufficiently rich to recommend the release as more than simply a historical document, the performances should satisfy both dogged collectors of antiquities and more general listeners; even some not-so-dogged collectors may want to explore the views of Kulenkampff in this repertoire. Warmly recommended to all."
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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