Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 1;
Concerto for 2 Violins.
Concerto for Violin and Oboe
Reinhold Barchet (vn);
Kurt Kalmus (ob); Kurt Redel, cond;
Munich Pro Arte CO
OPUS KURA 7043 (67:49)
Takeshi Nakano’s notes to Opus Kura’s release of performances from an earlier era of Bach’s violin concertos contend that such readings, far from being unauthentic, embody simply another fashion and that Devi Erlih, once identified as Jacques Thibaud’s successor, Henri Merckel, a rival to Thibaud in France, and Reinhold Barchet, an “heir” of Adolf Busch and the German school of violin playing, still have something to say that’s worth hearing about Bach. The performances may have come from LP, but the notes in English don’t give dates; harpsichord rather than piano serves as the keyboard instrument.
In Bach’s A-Minor Concerto, it’s not only the violinist’s approach that sets the performance apart as coming from another time; the slower tempo also suggests a different aesthetic than the one to which listeners to period performances have become accustomed in recent decades. Erlih, placed rather far forward by the engineers, plays with a large sound and an equally large conception of Bach’s chamber-like violin part. But there’s enough bounce, even at the tempo the performers have chosen, to keep the music from hugging the ground. In the slow movement, Erlih plays with more restrained—and, to that extent, perhaps more modern—tonal inflection than did, say, Isaac Stern (at a very similar tempo in the first movement) in his recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra from the 1956 (later released in the first volume of Stern’s early concerto recordings, Sony 45952). Such playing suggests a curious mix of being rooted in a particular time and timelessness. Only the finale really seems ponderous, although the soloist’s
gives the impression of a faster tempo.
In the Double Concerto, Henri Merckel joins Erlih. Merckel, born in 1897, belongs to an older generation of French violinists (think of Zino Francescatti, born in 1902) than Erlih (born in 1928). Their interplay keeps up the interest in the polyphonic first movement (and, slow motion, in the Adagio as well). Their reading of the finale sounds as bright and crisp as any modern-instrument aficionado might desire.
In the E-Major Concerto, the orchestral strings seem thin and the tempo slower than usual, but Erlih’s sharp accentuation appears a natural way of keeping the pulse flowing. The strings bound underneath his
in the middle section with a gaiety that period aficionados might envy. In the slow movement, the somewhat raspy tone quality of Erlih’s violin (perhaps an artifact of the recording) prevents the performance from seeming as nuanced as it probably sounded at the time. The finale, as did that of the A-Minor Concerto, almost plods.
In the C-Minor Concerto, the slow tempo of the first movement’s tuttis provide a background for Reinhold Barchet’s more squarely laid-out violin solo, but oboist Kurt Kalmus communicates plenty of rhythmic zest. In the slow movement, the recorded sound captures both soloists as a bit wiry, but their dialogue, toward the end, nevertheless rises to a high elevation. The finale’s opening, tempo-setting measure might come as a surprise if the last movements of the three other concertos hadn’t proceeded at such stately tempos.
The collection should appeal most strongly to collectors of violin recordings exemplifying the playing of two prominent French violinists from early in the last century; more generally, those without inflexible preferences for period performance may find these readings, perhaps especially in the slow movements of the two solo concertos, surprisingly probing. Recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Devy Erlih (Violin),
H. Merckel (Violin)
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany
Length: 16 Minutes 14 Secs.
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