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Henri Vieuxtemps: Complete Violin Concertos

Vieuxtemps / Royal Philharmonic Orch / Davin
Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Fuga Libera   Catalog #: 575   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Vineta SareikaHrachya AvanesyanNikita Boriso-GlebskyLorenzo Gatto,   ... 
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VIEUXTEMPS Violin Concertos: Nos. 1–7 Vineta Sareika, Hrachya Avanesyan, Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Lorenzo Gatto, Yossif Ivanov, Jolente de Maeyer, Harriet Langley (vn); Patrick Davin, cond; Liège RPO FUGA LIBERA 575 (3 CDs: 189:31)

Fuga Libera’s survey of Henri Vieuxtemps’s violin concertos has been recorded with the cooperation of Augustin Dumay, seven of whose students at the Queen Elisabeth Musical Chapel perform them with the Liège Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Patrick Davin. Read more Naxos has issued a similar survey of the concertos, all by violinist Misha Keylin. Fuga Libera made its recordings in July 2010 in Liège’s Salle Philharmonique.

Vieuxtemps’s First Concerto, actually the second he composed, begins with a long orchestral introduction; Vieuxtemps, even in his teenage years, aspired to symphonic grandeur (as did the young Henri Wieniawski in his First Concerto). But that’s really not new; Giovanni Battista Viotti had incorporated Haydn’s large orchestra, and something of the symphonic style as it existed in his day, into his concertos, trailblazing for their time. Davin and the orchestra, recorded with a clarity that makes the brasses bite, respond to the large scale; so does the first soloist, Vineta Sareika, who plays the difficult (and long, at more than 22 minutes) first movement stylishly, although the engineers haven’t brought her so far forward as Vieuxtemps’s persona might suggest. She hisses and spits in many of the passages in across-the-string double-stops in such a way as to make of these virtuosic passages riveting tours de force whatever the engineers’ philosophy. Though her tone (on a 1690 Gofriller instrument) may seem more slender than Keylin’s (Naxos 8.554506, Fanfare 23:6), she’s able to set the impress of a large personality on the work, not only in its colossal first movement, but in the songful second and the quicksilver third (Paul Stoeving referred to its sautillé bowings as phosphorescent) as well. That’s apparently what Vieuxtemps himself did.

Since Vieuxtemps composed his second published violin concerto first, he appears to have continued in the tradition of Heinrich Ernst and Henri Wieniawski in adopting the key of F?-Minor for his premiere work in the genre, influenced by Paganini. Its popularity, perhaps in part riding on Paganini’s, has waned over the years, although Michel Stockhem’s notes relate that Fritz Kreisler used to play it regularly. Robert Gerle recorded it on LP (Westminster WST 17123), Keylin “took an exciting virtuosic romp through it” (Naxos 8.554114, Fanfare 21:1), and Alexander Markov played it with a hair-raising brilliance that made me recommend his recording (Erato 0630-17878-2) with special urgency in 22:1. Hrachya Avanesyan, playing the Piatti Stradivari from 1717, may not achieve Vineta Sareika’s tonal purity, but he re-creates in the opening movement and finale the frisson with which early listeners must have responded to this pastiche of Paganini’s concertos (not only Paganini’s technique)—even if he doesn’t explore the sharpest effects as does Markov—and he’s expressive in the Andante.

The Third Concerto, a work almost as long and complex as the First, has had fewer champions, though Keylin’s recording of it (Naxos 8.554114, Fanfare 21:1) deserved an enthusiastic recommendation as a “rare virtuoso treat.” In that review, I suggested that though the concerto itself might have had “pretensions to Beethovenian ruggedness in its tuttis,” the solos belonged to Vieuxtemps. Because I thought the temperature of Vieuxtemps’s youthful first (second) concerto had cooled, I thought the work left “a slightly unsatisfied feeling” that even a performance as commanding as Keylin’s can’t entirely dispel. Nikita Boriso-Glebsky’s reading may not dispel it either, but it certainly goes a long way toward doing so—perhaps because of his slashingly dramatic style, even surpassing Keylin in the attempt. He’s especially well attuned to Vieuxtemps’s cantilena in the first movement, and he plays glowingly on the G string, though he’s hardly relaxed in the virtuosic double-stopped passages that mount to a pinnacle of difficulty toward the end. The orchestra plays the first movement’s brusque commentary with rustic energy and spreads in the second a backdrop of cinematic luxuriance. The soloist once again plays meltingly in the second movement and with tantalizing piquancy in the finale.

The notes refer to Joseph Szigeti as one of Vieuxtemps’s admirers, but I seem to recall him writing, in his autobiography With Strings Attached , about early impressions of the Fourth Concerto’s opening tutti representing an uprising of people, an impression he later dismissed almost as embarrassing. He never recorded a single one of Vieuxtemps’s works. However that may be, would you want to be assigned the Fourth Concerto in this set? Consider the competition: Jascha Heifetz made a stunning (and the word “stunning” needs to be taken literally rather than as so much fluff in this context) recording of it in 1935 with John Barbirolli; and that might for all intents and purposes have settled the matter, although Zino Francescatti recorded the piece authoritatively with Eugene Ormandy in 1957 (Columbia ML 4534, which I’ve always treasured) and Arthur Grumiaux (with Manuel Rosenthal in 1966, rereleased by Philips Eloquence as 8561, Fanfare 31:4) just about equaled him. (I remember being impressed by Itzhak Perlman’s aplomb in this piece in a recording I finally heard on the radio about a decade and a half ago.) And that’s not even to mention Keylin (again, on Naxos 8.554114) or Markov. Lorenzo Gatto meets this daunting challenge creditably, even if his reading sounds a bit more straightforward and settled (generic?) than Heifetz’s or Markov’s in the first movement, less piercingly sweet than Francescatti’s (despite Francescatti’s edgier tone) in the slow movement, and less quicksilver than Francescatti or Heifetz in the Scherzo (though he’s more poignant in the trio). He takes the finale in a headlong rush, straightforward in its vigor.

Like the Fourth Concerto, the Fifth has had a number of recent champions, beginning with Heifetz, who recorded it twice (in 1947 with Barbirolli and in 1961 with Malcolm Sargent), the first version as authoritative a performance as the concerto might have received from its composer. Grumiaux recorded it with Rosenthal in 1963 (also rereleased on Philips Eloquence 8561) and Markov included it with the Second and Fourth Concertos. Yossif Ivanov doesn’t seem concerned; he plays with a commanding brilliance and never seems to be looking over his shoulder (in this company, who would dare?). He doesn’t need to. Everything’s technically crisp (especially staccatos) and extrovertedly rhetorical (the slow movement’s a good example). Arpeggios roll darkly (can this be what Nathan Milstein referred to as his own “Black Sea technique”?). Here’s a performance that stands almost head and shoulders with the most illustrious.

The Sixth and Seventh Concertos, both from the composer’s last year, according to Lev Ginsburg in his book on Vieuxtemps (and from a period between 1865 and 1870, according to notes by Jean Gallois), make less imposing demands on the soloist (even these, Vieuxtemps may no longer have been able to meet); they haven’t been so frequently recorded (both appeared on Naxos 8.557016 with the Fifth Concerto, Fanfare 27: 4, as well as on an Audivis recording with Gérard Poulet, V 4797). The Sixth, according to Fuga Libera’s notes (by Stockhem, who assigns both to a period between 1880 and the composer’s death in 1881, when Vieuxtemps had retired to Mustafa to live with his daughter and physician son-in-law), written for Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda (Lady Hallé), consists, like the Fourth, of four movements, but kinder, gentler ones (for example, a gentle Intermezzo: Siciliano replaces the Fourth Concerto’s lightning Scherzo). Jolente de Maeyer sounds somewhat reserved in this work, which in any case Stockhem characterizes as “feminine.” That characterization seems apt until the final page, in which the brilliant Vieuxtemps regains his voice. The concerto didn’t make a much stronger initial impression in Poulet’s recording, and de Maeyer discovers in it a vein of poetic expressivity. The Seventh Concerto returns to the three-movement pattern, although the first doesn’t sound so heroic as even the corresponding movement in the Third. If Harriet Langley, Fuga Libera’s soloist in this last concerto, also seems somewhat reserved, she steps closer to the front of the stage in several more demanding passages (punctuated by rousing tuttis) and plays with a generally lush tone in the lower registers that enriches the singing passages and with an authority that lends extra panache to the recitative-like declamations. Now and then a passage with the bright virtuosity of one in an earlier concerto sparks the proceedings, and Langley remains alive to the dramatic possibilities of those moments, especially at the first movement’s end (once again, Poulet didn’t make this concerto sound riveting, either). The slow movement and finale occupy less time combined than does the first movement, but Langley sings liquidly in the second and makes the tarantella-like finale sound captivating.

Besides the extensive notes, Fuga Libera has included in the booklet a number of illustrations, all of them fascinating and some of them unexpected (as the one of Vieuxtemps’s student Norman-Neruda, or the one of Vieuxtemps in his early years with a violin that looks much too large for him, as well as a photograph that must have been taken in his last years). Those seeking performances of all the concertos by a single violinist will need to acquire Naxos’s volumes with Keylin; those wishing to assemble a set of performances by different violinists can mix Grumiaux, Keylin, Markov, Heifetz, and Francescatti. But nobody could go far wrong with Fuga Libera’s compilation.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 1 in E major, Op. 10 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Vineta Sareika (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 22 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 19 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Hrachya Avanesyan (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 20 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 3 in A major, Op. 25 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 36 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 4 in D minor, Op. 31 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Lorenzo Gatto (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1850 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 29 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 5 in A minor, Op. 37 "Grétry" by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Yossif Ivanov (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; Belgium 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 19 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 6 in G major, Op. 47 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Jolente de Maeyer (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 26 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 7 in A minor, Op. 49 by Henri Vieuxtemps
Performer:  Harriet Langley (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Davin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870 
Date of Recording: 07/2010 
Venue:  Liège, Salle philharmonique 
Length: 17 Minutes 20 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Sadly Ignored October 9, 2020 By Joseph Barbarie (San Diego, CA) See All My Reviews "Henri Vieuxtemps is one of those composers who gets short shrift, probably because of his dates. His technical wizardry as a soloist is somewhat overshadowed by the earlier efforts of Paganini, while his sound orchestral writing is similarly overshadowed by German contemporaries (i.e., Wagner and Schumann). Nonetheless, the soundness of the orchestration, the deftness of his melodies, and the seriousness of his symphonic intent for the concerto form cannot really be gainsaid, even by such comparisons. If, for example, we compare Vieuxtemps's orchestral tuttis with those of Chopin's concerti (or Liszt's), the comparison is probably in Vieuxtemps's favor. Nonetheless, these are virtuoso showpieces. Triple, and even quadruple-, stops abound, as well as bouts of passagework in intervals. Some of the avoidance of these pieces by soloists might be due to their finger-twisting difficulties. Furthermore, these technical difficulties do not have the same emotional pay-off that similar passages in Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, or Tchaikovsky (especially T) offer. So, alas, Vieuxtemps is not quite the master that any of those composers were. Even so, there is plenty to be savored. The 3rd and 4th concertos, in particular, have a sort of "latent" power to them -- this is not overt emotionalism (i.e., Tchaikovsky) but a more measured sort. It is unfair to describe it as less effective, or well-conceived." Report Abuse
 A delight for the listener October 30, 2012 By James Lowe (Owen Sound, ON) See All My Reviews "All of Henry Vieuxtemps Violin concertos in one package seemed too good to mis. The three discs were loaded into the car player and off we went. Eacht concerto is played by a talented young star and is accompanied by the Orchestra de Liege. A good choice considering Vieuxtemps was a Belgian . Each Concerto is a delight and the playing of these talented soloist is excellent. I am not a Critic by any means and would not criticize this production in any way. The sound is good and the orchestra and and soloist give a talened performance All I can say is that I am enjoying them all and can reccomend this album to any potential buyer. I wonder why we do not hear Vieuxtemps more often. He is certainly a good composer." Report Abuse
 SHINING July 13, 2012 By s. Figueroa (Laredo, TX) See All My Reviews "THE MUSIC AND THE PERFORMANCES ARE SUPERB.
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