Delightful, exciting and often touching concertos presented with total conviction and every appearance of unfaltering technique.
D’ERLANGER Violin Concerto. Poème. CLIFFE Violin Concerto • Philippe Graffin (vn); David Lloyd-Jones, cond; BBC Natl O of Wales • HYPERION 67838 (69:45) Read more
The 10th volume of Hyperion’s series devoted to The Romantic Violin Concerto wanders further afield—or so it seems—than did at least most of the earlier volumes into the downright obscure—though by no means the uninteresting—in its exploration of concertos by Baron Frédéric Alfred d’Erlanger and Frederic Cliffe. D’Erlanger’s concerto, according to the booklet notes, received its premiere in 1903 by Hugo Heermann in Frankfurt; Fritz Kreisler and Albert Sammons played it in England, and it must have served as a most appropriate vehicle for them. The first movement’s soaring romanticism, to which Philippe Graffin and David Lloyd-Jones seem keenly attuned, includes a variety of purely violinistic figuration, some of it athletically virtuosic, and a manner of deploying it that makes the solo part sound idiomatic; the work’s harmonic manner includes sudden modulations that should hold a more general listener’s interest. The movement ends with a majestic statement in Lloyd-Jones’s stirring account. The colorful orchestration of the opening movement endures in the woodwind timbres of the transparently scored second. In that movement, the violin takes its turn accompanying the orchestra with a rainbow of spectral arpeggios and bands of slinky figuration. The buoyant and sprightly dance-like finale may strike some listeners as insufficiently weighty—or, alternatively, pixilated (in the pre-digital sense), yet not so elfin as Felix Mendelssohn’s famous finale—to bring a work of the concerto’s gravitas to a satisfying conclusion, but Graffin and the orchestra weave in it their own kind of spell.
The composer orchestrated his Poème in 1928, although it appeared 10 years earlier. According to the notes, its champions included William Primrose (as violinist) and Adila Fachiri (Jelly d’Arányi’s sister), who played it with the composer in the original violin-and-piano version. In pure sumptuousness, it’s perhaps equal to Ernest Chausson’s similarly designated work, though it sounds more direct, less sinuous, and more focused harmonically.
Cliffe’s concerto, from 1896, opens, as does d’Erlanger’s, with bold double-stopped statements by the soloist. Both concertos speak in a harmonic dialect rich in surprises and subtle twists, and they confidently combine songlike melodies with violinistic display foreshadowed in their opening measures. Once again, Graffin plays as though born to the manner, and in this concerto he often allows the melodies to languish, swallowed by later sonorous tuttis (Lloyd-Jones knows just when to make those blaring statements). The first movement includes near its end an extensive and well-developed cadenza, with some touches like accompanying tremolo that made the cadenzas Kreisler wrote for popular works so effective. If the slow movement of Cliffe’s concerto doesn’t show the almost pointillistic orchestration of d’Erlanger’s, its melodious themes and rapt interaction with orchestra make it equally moving. After a misty opening, the skies clear to reveal a vigorous, ruddy finale that’s nevertheless as rich as the preceding movements of harmonic finesses.
The engineers haven’t placed Graffin very much in the fore, and his tone on the 1730 Domenico Busano violin on which he plays sounds sweetly insinuating rather than boldly commanding. For the most part, he has mastered the difficulties of the two concertos, as well as their expressive requirements (and he revels in the composer’s Poème). For those who appreciate the kind of late-blooming romanticism represented by Edward Elgar’s concerto, these two concertos and d’Erlanger’s Poème should be almost obligatory—alternately affecting and stirring—listening. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Hyperion do not shill-shally around. They could so easily have blanched at the perceived risks of issuing a CD of two completely unknown half hour British violin concertos. The alterative was to have harnessed one with a better known or even famous concerto in the time-honoured fashion. Their resolve has not failed them and so we have here three unknown works by two unknown composers – allowing for the Cliffe CD of the First Symphony on Sterling. The chosen soloist is Philippe Graffin who has already won his spurs with the first recording issued of the Coleridge Taylor concerto (Avie) not to mention fine projects with Hyperion: the three Saint-Saens concertos, the Breville and Canteloube collection and another disc including the Goldmark suite and the sumptuous Bruno Walter sonata.
The Paris-born D’Erlanger was a naturalised Brit with affluent banking connections who wrote among much else operas (one of these is on Hardy’s Tess) and a range of ambitious works including a Requiem Mass and a Concerto Symphonique for piano and orchestra – perhaps influenced by Litolff’s two examples under the same name. is Brahmsian in character. It’s first movement is from a composer clearly impressed by Brahms’ First Symphony, Violin Concerto and especially with the Tragic Overture. Although it has its delightfully sighing points of contact with the Dvorák concerto it is no stranger to romantic storms. Then again the Andante has a Balakirev-Oriental accent and a hint of birdsong. Mendelssohn and Bruch play carefree throughout the whirlwind finale. D’Erlanger’s Poëme is lushly romantic – tantamount to Korngold and not that far distant from the Delius Violin Concerto. It’s very enjoyable. Cliffe was born at Lowmoor near the city of Delius’s birth, Bradford. His Concerto with its first movement’s unstemmable flow of lyrical release reminded me of the Delius concerto. Its more Victorian accent makes a natural connection with the apollonian Beethoven Violin Concerto. The Andante is very touching indeed and makes a good match for the Andante of the D’Erlanger work. The finale begins in magisterial mystery – quietly tense – and from this emerges a dancing showpiece of an Allegro which recalls the great Spanish-inflected works of the age notably the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole. Each of these pieces has a human face. They are far from being vehicles for mere display. A real emotional narrative energises the invention of these two composers.
Lewis Foreman’s essay about d’Erlanger and Cliffe is fascinating and whets the appetite for more works from each of these two intriguing yet forgotten figures. You can read an article about Cliffe on this site.
Two delightful, exciting and often touching concertos presented with total conviction and every appearance of unfaltering technique. If you are already an adherent of the violin concertos by Bruch, Tchaikovsky and the others mentioned above then don’t miss out on this. These two are every bit as good as the de Boeck, the Karlowicz, the Garofalo and the Ivanovs.