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Georg Kulenkampff: Concerto Recordings, Vol. 1

Beethoven / Mozart
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Opus Kura   Catalog #: 2090   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-IsserstedtArthur Rother
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto 1. MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, “Turkish 2” Georg Kulenkampff (vn); 1 Hans Schmitt-Isserstedt, cond; Berlin PO; 2 Arthur Rother, cond; Staatskapelle Berlin OPUS KURA 2090 (73:00)

SCHUMANN Read more Violin Concerto 1. BRAHMS Violin Concerto 2. BEETHOVEN Romance No. 1 3 Georg Kulenkampff (vn); 1,2 Hans Schmitt-Isserstedt, cond; Berlin PO; 3 Arthur Rother, cond; Staatskapelle Berlin OPUS KURA 2091 (73:24)

Although Georg Kulenkampff may have been considered the paradigmatic German violinist, he played Mendelssohn’s forbidden concerto in wartime Germany; Boris Schwarz, in his book Great Masters of the Violin states that he considered Kulenkampff the most un-German of all the German violinists he had known. These two Opus Kura volumes sample his performances of concerted works.

Kulenkampff’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s concerto comes from a 1936 Telefunken recording. The recorded sound, with plenty of surface noise, nevertheless seems especially vibrant and lifelike for its time, representing the orchestra with depth and clarity (although it makes the violin sound abrasive and Kulenkampff wiry in the passagework). The impression that the standard of intonation may not have been so high in this recording appears to be due in large part to some sort of pitch wobble in the recording process; Kulenkampff didn’t have a reputation for spotty intonation. In any case, his performance of the first movement, leanly athletic, seems modern (despite a few portamentos that, even in their elegant selves, fit well within the later aesthetic that eschewed romantic excesses) and virtuosic in the cadenza (Fritz Kreisler’s—another anomaly perhaps for the Germany of the time). His reading of the second movement, unforced in its lyricism, could serve as a foil for the strained effects by German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, Deutsche Grammophon 289 471 349, Fanfare 26:5, reviewed again by Mortimer H. Frank, Fanfare 26:6. He sounds sprightly and pure in the upper registers in the finale, and, again, exceptionally virtuosic in Kreisler’s cadenza. Schmitt-Isserstedt maintains a nobly elevated vision of the concerto throughout.

Mozart’s Fifth Concerto also comes from a wartime Telefunken recording of 1939. The engineers set the soloist far to the fore, revealing his tonal translucence (Kulenkampff played the late 1734 Naudad Stradivari for almost all of his career). There’s a rhythmic springiness in his playing that wouldn’t have needed to make apologies to the recent period-instrument movement, although it’s coupled with a flexibility that seems more characteristic of its time. Although Joseph Joachim’s music may have been banned, Kulenkampff played his cadenza to the first movement. The orchestra extends the soloist’s rhythmic vitality into the slow movement, but the soloist adds more than mere zest to the solo part, with elegant portamentos and subtle expressive nuances. Joachim’s cadenza, which Kulenkampff concludes with an especially light and graceful gesture, brings the movement to a close. The reading of the finale, on the other hand, may strike some modern listeners as a bit too heavily accented, although the middle, Turkish, section may actually profit from such thumping energy. Orchestra and soloist bring this final movement as well to an elegant conclusion.

The collection’s second volume opens with the premiere recording, made for Telefunken on December 20, 1937, of Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto. Kulenkampff had given the premiere with Karl Böhm conducting the Berlin Philharmonic on November 26 of the same year, with Adolf Hitler in attendance. Tully Potter’s notes relate the story of the Nazi regime assigning the premiere to Kulenkampff when Jelly d’Arányi was attempting to give it in London. But Kulenkampff, having pronounced the original unplayable, performed, according to Potter, from a version cobbled together from editions made by Kulenkampff himself and by Paul Hindemith with Georg Schünemann, while Yehudi Menuhin gave the premiere of the original score in the United States (he recorded it with John Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic on February 2, 1938). The engineers placed Kulenkampff very, very far forward in this recording, almost under the listener’s ear, in fact, and he sweeps along magisterially in the first movement. In the second, both he and the orchestra sound ardent, but he floats expressively above his accompaniment, taking advantage of many romantic expressive devices to make his musical points and giving the movement an almost Bruch-like communicativeness. The finale is a sort of polonaise (a common conclusion for many violin concertos, Classical and Romantic) and Kulenkampff plays it with virtuosic flair (a flair that can be heard in the music itself of Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Orchestra) and all the terpsichorean vitality it deserves—and requires. In Mehuhin’s recording, the first movement may open at about the same tempo, but Schmitt-Isserstedt makes more of the second theme’s lyrical possibilities. And while Menuhin played with great vibrancy (and perhaps gives greater direction to passages of figuration that in Kulenkampff’s reading may seem to wander), Kulenkampff’s technical incisiveness, captured close up, lends an air of virtuoso sizzle all its own. And so, whatever feelings one harbors about the circumstances of the premiere or the edited version Kulenkampff used, his performance still stands as a cogent one of this controversial score that anyone attempting an evaluation of it should hear, at least as a footnote.

Kulenkampff and Schmitt-Isserstedt recorded Johannes Brahms’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1939. In the first movement, they adopt a brisk tempo that leaves many recent performances in the dust (at 21:12, it’s faster than Heifetz’s galloping version with Fritz Reiner—at 21:27—in 1955 and even a hair faster than his earlier one—at 21:14—with Serge Koussevitzky from the same year, 1939, as Kulenkampff’s; of course, allowance has to be made for the different cadenzas). The engineers still placed the soloist forward, but no longer far enough, perhaps, to offend most listeners. Potter identifies this as one of Kulenkampff’s favorite concertos to play outside Germany, and he certainly displays an affinity for its angular yet lyrical writing for the violin. Although he plays with heady energy in the passagework, he hardly rushes through the singing sections. Once again, he chooses Joachim’s cadenzas—perhaps a bold gesture—and he plays the one in the first movement with virtuosic gusto. Occasionally a note noticeably out of tune disturbs the effect, not only of the cadenza but of the movement proper. The slow movement and finale display a similar unsettledness of intonation that, whatever its source (performance or, possibly more likely, recording) may not be tolerable to some listeners. The program concludes with a reading again from 1939, again for Telefunken, of Beethoven’s Romance in G Major (written second, numbered first). In this shorter work, Kulenkampff plays with a winning flexibility and grace.

With the cautions noted above for some questionable intonation, these historic recordings should appeal very strongly to violinists, aficionados, and collectors. Individual moments stand out—the slow movement of Schumann’s concerto, for example, and that of Mozart’s, but the general level is high as well. And the premiere recording of Schumann’s concerto in this unusual edition serves as a historical document. Both volumes are warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff (Violin)
Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/25/1936 
Length: 43 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 5 in A major, K 219 "Turkish" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff (Violin)
Conductor:  Arthur Rother
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
Written: 1775 
Date of Recording: 1939 
Length: 29 Minutes 3 Secs. 

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