Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: in d; in a
(arr. by composer from Cello Concerto).
Fantasie in C
Anthony Marwood (vn); Douglas Boyd, cond; BBC Scottish SO
HYPERION 67847 (69: 29)
Laura Tunbridge’s notes cite Yehudi Menuhin’s estimation that Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D Minor represents a missing link between Beethoven and Brahms; and she extends the metaphor to the composer’s other late concerted works for violin, the revision for violin of
the Cello Concerto and the Fantasie in C Major. Noting that violinist Joseph Joachim had recommended that Schumann should write some solo works for violin and that Schumann had responded with some of these, she places what others have identified as weaknesses once ascribed to declining mental acuity in the context of the future that they suggest rather than in that of the past and present which they disappoint. Anthony Marwood, playing a 1736 Carlo Bergonzi, serves as a sturdy soloist in the original violin concerto. He plays with the authority that can be heard in Georg Kulenkampff’s early recording, which, despite its editing, I’ve tended to recommend over the nearly contemporary reading by Yehudi Menuhin. But Marwood combines Kulenkampff’s sharp technical command in the first movement with Menuhin’s poetry; and the recorded sound represents the symphonic accompaniment’s sonorousness (as well, perhaps, weaknesses in its conception) in a way that the earliest technologies even at their best simply couldn’t approximate. The orchestra sets a poignant mood at the opening of the second movement, a brief introduction hard to follow, despite Marwood’s rich and fibrous tone in the lower registers as the movement progresses. But Marwood comes more fully into his own when he takes up that opening melody and remains cogent; and he remains convincing until the end (the leaping violin writing recalls, however remotely, the parallel movement in Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto). Marwood and conductor Douglas Boyd take the finale at a tempo that allows its lyricism as well as its more bumptious declamation, to emerge credibly, though Marwood always remains alert technically to its moments of sweeping or flashing, though fleeting, virtuosity.
The Violin Concerto in A Minor hardly sounds so violinistic, even though the composer himself arranged it for the violin from his version for cello. As Tunbridge points out, the revision cast the soloist in a different relationship with the orchestra, the violin rising above it rather than riding in its center, as does the cello. Still, the part, having been conceived for the lower instrument, doesn’t assign to the soloist the kind of macho passagework with which violin soloists usually beat their unequal partners into submission—so the part requires a particularly commanding instrumentalist to achieve the necessary balance. Would Joachim have been happy with this kind of relationship (however scornfully he may have eschewed virtuosity for its own sake)? Some of the passages on the G string may make a particularly strong impression on some listeners (perhaps those most familiar with the version for cello), but these, combining Marwood’s confident advocacy with the tessitura of the original combination of solo and orchestra, may not quite compensate for some listeners in the slow movement and the finale for whatever weaknesses the original possesses.
Joachim did play the fantasie in C Major, however, and it represents a more traditional relationship between a striking pyrotechnical violin part and the accompanying orchestra, although the piece seems more rhapsodic than tightly structured. Anne-Sophie Mutter recorded the work with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic in 1997 (her teacher, Aïda Stucki had recorded it with Rolf Reinhardt and the Pro Musica Orchestra), and other recordings have been made available by Benjamin Schmid, on Oehms 725,
33:6. Marwood sounds tonally more opulent and overall more lyrical and less virtuosic than does Schmid, though equally commanding in his relationship with the orchestra. He also engages in sensitive reflection in moments of repose, so his success in the work doesn’t depend only on unidimensional strength. And he’s boffo in the bravura passages that bring the work to an end. Fritz Kreisler liked the piece and arranged it—some (including Mutter) have revived it in his version. But Marwood plays the original (actually, violinists seem to be returning to earlier versions of other pieces that Kreisler arranged or transcribed as well).
If only for Marwood’s reading of the formerly neglected violin concerto, the collection should find a place on violin aficionados’ shelves, but others seeking the missing link may find it primary research material (after all, this recording represents the 13th volume of Hyperion’s series, “The Romantic Violin Concerto,” so such links would seem to be part of the project). Recommended across the board.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D minor by Robert Schumann
Anthony Marwood (Violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1853; Germany
Featured Sound Samples
Violin Concerto in D minor: III. Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell
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