Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 3 in g; No. 4 in A; No. 6 in B?
Friedemann Eichhorn (vn); Nicolás Pasquet, cond; Jena PO
NAXOS 8.570767 (73:56)
32:6, I reviewed Friedemann Eichhorn’s recording of Pierre Rode’s Violin Concertos Nos. 7 and 10 and another posthumous one in F ?
Minor with the Southwest German Radio Orchestra, Kaiserlautern, conducted by Nicolás Pasquet on Naxos 8.570469. Eichhorn and Pasquet have now
returned, this time with the Jena Philharmonic, in premiere recordings of three of Rode’s earlier concertos. Once again, violinists will be familiar with Rode as the composer of the famous 24 caprices that lead a violinist from the mechanics of Rodolphe Kreutzer and Federigo Fiorillo to the artistry of Charles de Bériot, Nicolo Paganini, and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. But these concertos present Rode, as Eichhorn notes in his own booklet discussion, in a very different light from that suggested by his ingenious didactic material, however musical its content.
As do so many concertos of the period—for example, those of Giovanni Battista Viotti—the Third Concerto, in G Minor, op. 5, opens with a strutting tutti—at about three minutes, a rather long one, but that’s not surprising in view of the movement’s near 15 minutes and the concerto’s near half-hour. As do so many of the period’s opening tuttis, this one allows the orchestra to churn itself up before the soloist enters with declamatory cantilena, which usually leads quickly, as here, to scintillating passagework. If Viotti gave the passage pride of place in his concertos, Rode followed him but introduced greater variety into its technical diction. Eichhorn takes these passages at a tempo that allows them to bubble like champagne. Another tutti leads to the central section (as in Viotti’s works, not yet, perhaps, a development), which continues in the same pyrotechnical vein. The movement makes a place for a cadenza, and Eichhorn has composed one for it that fits well, even if it exceeds somewhat the movement’s technical demands. After the orchestra’s foreboding introduction, Eichhorn sets out the second movement’s songful theme in double-stops; near the movement’s close, he plays another cadenza of his own composition. The finale, a polonaise similar to those in Viotti’s concertos, includes brilliant passagework in rapid triplets; but again, Eichhorn’s brisk tempo makes them sparkle and swirl.
The Fourth Concerto, in A Major, op. 6, begins dourly, but again works itself into a lather before the soloist enters, this time with imposing arpeggios and double-stops that soon settle into a more melodic theme. Eichhorn demonstrates in this movement, as he did throughout the Third Concerto, that he can fuse these two elements, even if his brisk tempos (somewhat like Viotti laced with four cups of coffee) could blind some listeners who might otherwise be well-disposed to the work’s cheery tunefulness. Eichhorn’s own cadenza bristles with entertaining difficulties, ones that seem more advanced than those of the movement proper. He warms to the slow movement’s simple song, much of which he sings winningly over a discreet pizzicato accompaniment; his own cadenza once again brings the movement to an end. The finale’s orchestral vamp and the succeeding first entry of the violin sound a bit like those in Viotti’s famous 23rd Concerto, but the material bears the impress of a stronger, and perhaps stormier, musical personality.
In the booklet, Bruce R. Scheuneman mentions the Sixth Concerto, op. 8, along with the Seventh, as the most popular of Rode’s concerted works, and its first movement certainly does amount to a darker and more serious statement (occasionally almost Beethovenian in its forcefulness) as well as the brilliant ones familiar from the other concertos, as well as a cadenza in which Eichhorn claims to have combined elements from Rode with arpeggiated passages similar to the famous one in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne, which he happened to be studying at the time. The slow movement incorporates some passages reminiscent of Mozartean opera, but the finale is pure bravura.
If these concertos make their strongest appeal to violinists and aficionados and historians of the instrument, they could still open the ears of many listeners as well to the melodious appeal of the violin before Paganini. In these headlong performances, sympathetically supported by Pasquet and the orchestra and captured by Naxos’s engineers with the spotlight—where it arguably belongs—on the soloist, they may, as suggested, reach a larger audience as well. Strongly recommended, therefore, across the board.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Pierre Rode was born four years after Beethoven and died three years after Beethoven. He couldn’t have been more different, though; as a member of the ‘French school’ of violin playing he toured Europe with a series of successful concertos, each of them highly lyrical and virtuosic. They’re classical or early-romantic in a vague way: you could never say, “ah! This must be Rode!”, but on the other hand any fan of the period who listens to Rode’s music won’t turn it off. It is reliably pretty, well-made, and enjoyable, and the feature I really need to point out is that Rode wrote absolutely first-rate finales with rhythmic verve and even what sound like folk elements.
The Third Concerto (1798) is one of the most ambitious in his whole series, with a fifteen-minute long first movement; the other two movements are just thirteen combined. This gigantic allegro is rather too gigantic; it never feels big or important, but just keeps going. The rest of the piece is much more successful, especially the riveting finale, which if I didn’t know better I would tell you is some kind of polonaise or other east-European dance.
The Fourth Concerto (1798-1800, date uncertain) has all the advantages of the Third except for minor-key spice, and adds admirable brevity to the mix. It, too, is a pleasure for the ears. The Sixth Concerto (1800), apparently Rode’s most famous although all three of these recordings are premieres, presents his art at its most refined: lovely tunes, beautiful solo writing, a slightly beefier orchestral contribution - does the Fourth Concerto use trombones or are my ears deceiving me? - and another final rondo really worth getting excited about. It seems to me rare that Rode would produce merely average adagios and then superb concluding movements; so often obscure romantic concertos excel early and then disappoint in the finales.
Adding to the pleasure of the disc is the solo playing of Friedemann Eichhorn, as polished and pleasing as the music; he really has the feel of this era’s style. Even better, he’s written his own highly accomplished cadenzas for each concerto, very good in the first two concertos and then in No. 6 providing quite possibly the highlight of the whole disc: Eichhorn has brought in one of the variations from Bach’s Chaconne in D minor and incorporated into the heart of the solo, and the result is a really well-written synthesis of the original Bach and the Rode themes which never feels like a stylistic clash. We’re fortunate to have such a thoughtful performer engaging so closely with the composer and his style, and the Jena Philharmonic under Nicolás Pasquet provide admirable support.
A note: if you insert the CD into your computer, the Gracenote track-identification software will report the wrong opus number for No. 4 (Op. 18 instead of Op. 16) and the wrong key for No. 6 (it’s in B flat, not B). Chai Ben-Shan’s paintings on the covers of the Naxos Rode series all look like completely different people, the two previous portraits looking much more dashing than this one. Don’t let appearances fool you: Pierre Rode’s music is a pleasure to be with.
-- Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International
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