Notes and Editorial Reviews
Any new recording of the Fourth and Fifth concertos risks comparison with the benchmark Grumiaux/Rosenthal versions on Philips. Viviane Hagner hasn't quite Grumiaux's silkiness of timbre; she sounds a touch gritty in comparison, and her high register could be sweeter and smoother, but her playing has plenty of gusto without ever turning crude, and she's excellently accompanied by Martyn Brabbins and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Hagner chooses tempos that are almost identical to Grumiaux's; indeed, in the Fourth concerto, Vieuxtemps' largest and greatest, she is even a bit more impulsive in spots.
In the exciting Fantasia appassionata, a big work as long as some of Vieuxtemps' actual concertos, Hagner offers a really
substantial coupling that doesn't deserve its neglect. Indeed, all of this is really good music, and despite the fact that it's obviously intended to showcase the violin, the orchestra still gets to strut its stuff, and the formal designs are remarkably compact and efficient. Hyperion's sonics are also very good, warm and well-balanced. In short, if you care about this repertoire you must have Grumiaux, but Hagner holds her own, and is certainly worth hearing in her own right.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Violin Concertos: No. 5 in a; No. 4 in d.
Viviane Hagner (vn); Martyn Brabbins, cond; Royal Flemish O
HYPERION 67798 (66:40)
It would be hard to deny that by the middle of the 20th century, Henri Vieuxtemps’s violin concertos had fallen into oblivion: Heifetz and Francescatti recorded the Fourth, and Heifetz recorded the Fifth twice; but those recordings took place when the concertos had perhaps greater currency in the concert hall and the classroom than they do nowadays. But they’re now more frequently recorded, including Naxos’s complete set and recordings by Zukerman (the Fifth), Perlman (both Fourth and Fifth), Alexander Markov (Second, Fourth, and Fifth), and Italian Massimo Quarta. Viviane Hagner now joins the others, adding the less frequently heard
, which Gidon Kremer recorded in 1980 (rereleased on Philips 432 513).
Vieuxtemps wrote the concertos for his own use; despite their difficulties, they’re so well conceived for the instrument that, though they hardly play themselves, they don’t pose such awkward challenges as do, say, Schubert’s works. Viviane Hagner, playing the 1717 Sasserno Stradivari, displays a sympathy for their celebrated cantilena, so much in evidence between the displays of technical derring-do. In the early pages of the Fifth Concerto, for example, she seems as comfortable in the lyrical themes, imparting to them a warmth that comes partly from her general tone production and partly from her carefully calibrated portamentos, which she also deploys in the cadenza. This kind of playing recalls the manner of violinists of the older generation rather than the chaste, sharply defined but somewhat detached manner adopted by so many young virtuosi during the last several generations. This romantic sensibility comes to a focus in the slow movement, and the brief finale once again demonstrates Hagner’s facile technical command and ability to fashion from the technical elements a stirring musical statement.
Hagner’s entry in the Fourth Concerto hardly sounds less prepossessing than those of Heifetz or Francescatti, and she’s tonally less edgy (although perhaps also technically less flamboyant) than violinists like Markov (in the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Concertos, released in 1997 by Erato—0630-17878). But in developing the recitative-like passages that follow, she doesn’t maintain the level of dynamic energy so successfully as did the older violinists. The slow movement (the second of four: the concerto includes a scherzo) once again displays Hagner’s affinity for Vieuxtemps’s lyrical vein (although, as I’ve previously mentioned, turn-of-the-century writer Paul Stoeving, writing only about 20 years after Vieuxtemps’s death, considered these works cold and empty). In the virtuosic passagework of the Scherzo and Finale, however, her brand of brilliance seems to show itself less in glitter than in strength (Heifetz’s and Francescatti’s spiccatos at the end of the last movement, for example, sparkle like fireworks).
shares with the concertos the same imposing symphonic massiveness, combining it with outright display and the “bigness” of romantic violin playing. Despite her placement near the center of the soundstage, Hagner seems to have found this mix of qualities, and her crisp flying staccatos (
) and bracing double-stops create a great deal of excitement. On occasion, the work breathes the same carnival-like atmosphere (though, perhaps curiously, not so much in the Saltarella finale as do Bottesini’s works for double basses in various combinations).
The engineers have placed the violin in a position that champions of concert-hall-like balance should celebrate, even if listeners to LPs in the middle of the last century became accustomed to Isaac Stern, David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, and Zino Francescatti occupying center stage acoustically. Martyn Brabbins and the orchestra re-create the spirit of these symphonically conceived concertos and demonstrate why Hector Berlioz found Vieuxtemps’s virtuosity in orchestration so impressive—although they lack the sense of excited expectancy that Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra created in the long opening tutti of the Fourth Concerto (a passage that Joseph Szigeti mentions having compared in his youth to the unchaining of the oppressed). Hagner’s program can be recommended to those who wish to hear these works in balanced sound and in performances that blend the lyrical with the technical—and it has the advantage of including the relatively obscure
, though those interested principally in panache may wish to turn to Heifetz or Francescatti, or, more recently, to Perlman. And those willing to forgo a bit of sensibility for the ultimate joyride may even prefer Markov.
-- FANFARE, Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Fantasia appassionata, Op. 35 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Viviane Hagner (Violin)
Royal Flemish Philharmonic
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