Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony in d. Violin Concerto.
Introduction and Romance
Alexander Rumpf, cond; Elisabeth Kufferath (vn); Marie Luise Neunecker (hn);
Oldenburg St Theater O
cpo 777 314 (2 CDs: 86:19)
Readers have been told that Albert Dietrich (1829–1908) was a student of Robert Schumann who, together with Schumann and Brahms, wrote a violin sonata for Joseph Joachim, known as the “F-A-E” Sonata for its
frei aber einsam
motive. The task of writing the first movement fell to Dietrich. Brahms wrote the Scherzo, while Schumann took on the second and fourth movements. The sonata part of the story is true; the Schumann student part is dubious. Dietrich is known to have studied under Moscheles, Julius Rietz, and Moritz Hauptmann—the latter also taught Ferdinand David of Mendelssohn Violin Concerto fame, Hans von Bülow, Joseph Joachim, and Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan fame—before he met Schumann in Düsseldorf in1851. Dietrich’s connection to Brahms was the stronger and longer-lasting one. He introduced many of Brahms’s works in his capacity as music director at the court of Oldenburg between 1861 and 1890, and played an important role in facilitating the Bremen premiere of
A German Requiem
in 1868. The two men had close ties and were good friends.
Though not a terribly prolific composer himself, Dietrich did leave an opera (
), concertos for cello and horn, a handful of choral works, two piano trios, and the symphony, violin concerto, and horn romance recorded here. Contrary to the supposition of Malcolm MacDonald and others that Brahms himself was the composer of the A-Major Piano Trio posthumously attributed to him, Brahms scholar David Brodbeck, in
The Cambridge Companion to Brahms
, 1999, put forward an alternative theory that Dietrich was its most likely author. Definitive evidence of the work’s authorship has yet to be uncovered and, at this point, isn’t likely to be.
A different theory regarding a different topic was introduced by German musicologist Carl Dahlhaus (1928–1989) in his
Second Age of the Symphony
. Dahlhaus was eager to find the missing link(s) between Schumann’s last effort (the final 1851 revisions to his Fourth Symphony) and Brahms’s First Symphony, completed in 1876. In those 25 years, many symphonies had to have been written by composers who today are largely forgotten. Albert Dietrich’s D-Minor Symphony, his second, is one of those in-between Schumann and Brahms symphonies, having been completed towards the end of 1868. Booklet note author Jürgen Pilch tells us that Dietrich’s opus is not only of extremely high quality but that it was one of the most performed new symphonies of its time.
Even a cursory listen explains why; it’s one of the most stunning, new-to-me pieces of music I’ve come across in a very long time. On the one hand, bold, dramatic, masterfully orchestrated waves of thunderous sound will sweep you up and away. On the other hand, lyrical interludes of soothing, salving, siren-like seductiveness will tear at your heartstrings. But perhaps what will most fascinate listeners familiar with the symphonies of both Schumann and Brahms will be that missing link aspect of Dietrich’s score. The practiced ear will immediately recognize that in content, style, and technique this symphony falls somewhere squarely in the middle, being too late for Schumann but too early for Brahms.
For those maxed out on all the mainstream violin concertos from Beethoven to Bruch, here’s a new one to fall in love with. It has all the makings of a great Romantic concerto: virtuosic pyrotechnics aplenty (passages in double-stops and glissando octaves, rapid runs up the fingerboard, stratospheric harmonics and trills, and bow-bending string crossings) and melting melodies to move you to tears. One really has to wonder how and why violinists from Joachim on could have allowed such a wondrous creature to become extinct while preserving much less worthy specimens. Heifetz, where were you? This would have been a perfect vehicle for him. Elisabeth Kufferath does her best, which is considerable, to give Dietrich’s concerto its due. Her playing of the Adagio espressivo is heartfelt and delivered with pure, silvery tone. But there are hair-raising difficulties in the first and last movements that present challenges to which I think a Julia Fischer, Hilary Hahn, or James Ehnes would bring a bit more panache and a cleaner, more incisive technique. This is a work that needs to be restored to the mainstream repertoire, and it cries out to be taken up by a world-class virtuoso.
Introduction and Romance
for horn and orchestra fills out the second disc. This very beautiful extended song could easily have been the slow movement to a horn concerto that, as far as we know, Dietrich never wrote. It’s a lovely thing that puts a poignant period to this hour and a half of gorgeous music-making.
Not only is this release guaranteed to be on my 2009 Want List, but as I write this review in the waning hours of 2008, I am making it a New Year’s resolution to acquire everything by Dietrich I can, which right now is very little. The current cpo release is the only one dedicated exclusively to Dietrich; all others offer programs of works that include other composers. Acquiring this two-disc set is imperative.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins