CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Brahms Violin Concertos

available at Amazon
Brahms, Violin Concerto / Double Concerto, V. Repin, T. Mørk, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, R. Chailly

(released on March 17, 2009)
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7470

Online Brahms scores:
Op. 77 | Op. 102
We missed Vadim Repin playing the Brahms violin concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last March (Tim Smith was there), but we will hopefully make that right by hearing him do it again this fall with the National Symphony Orchestra (November 5 to 7, surprisingly also paired with Prokofiev's fifth symphony). The youngest winner ever of the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels (in 1989, when he was a tender 17 years old) built a career slowly, only recently signing a major contract with Deutsche Grammophon (although he has released several recordings on Erato and Warner Classics). The Brahms is one of the big five Romantic warhorses, reviewed at Ionarts as played by the electrifying Anne-Sophie Mutter, the clear-toned Leonidas Kavakos, and Nathan Milstein (of nearly 200 available recordings). Nor is it wanting for live performances with the area's orchestras, since we have heard it played annually in recent years, by Sarah Chang with the NSO in 2008, and before that Gil Shaham in 2006 and Lisa Batiashvili in 2005, as well as Henning Kraggerud with the BSO in 2007.

As is often repeated, the Brahms concerto was not always this popular, provoking memorable one-liners about it being a concerto for violin vs. orchestra and Brahms giving the only good melody in the work to the oboe, in the winds-only introduction to the second movement. Surely Repin, whom Jens once called "arguably the greatest active violinist" for his take on the Beethoven concerto, could make one care about the Brahms concerto? Just to play the demanding solo part requires a brutal technique, with its searing E string passages in the stratosphere, endless runs, and lengthy passages in double-stopped thirds, sixths, and octaves. All too often, brutality can beget brutality and, although Repin's hard-edged sound would probably not sound as raw live, in real balance with a large orchestra (the recording engineer was Philip Siney, and the recording was made in the Grosser Saal of the Leipzig Gewandhaus), the recorded sound can be, well, brutal. Part of this may be due to Repin's choice, described in an interview with Axel Brüggemann, to play wherever possible on the violin's lower strings, based on the advice of his idol, Yehudi Menuhin. Although in the same interview, Repin acknowledges that the "there's no other violin concerto in which the composer uses the word 'dolce' so often," it is not the sweetness of his interpretation that stands out so much to my ears, especially in the slow movement.

Repin currently plays the Guarneri del Gesù 1736 "von Szerdahely" violin, which has an astonishingly throaty sound at times. It is quite striking, however, to hear Repin play not the traditional cadenza, created by Joseph Joachim when he premiered the work, but the rather showy one by Jascha Heifetz, a choice quite in keeping with Repin's overall approach. Riccardo Chailly leads gorgeous ensemble performances by the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, in the violin concerto and in more Brahms, the double concerto for violin and cello. Repin has said that he regards his partner in the latter work, Truls Mørk, as a "soul brother," and the two seem to have a similar approach to the double concerto, more brash than not. We last reviewed the work as played by the Capuçon brothers and the NSO in 2007, when it was quite memorable, and their recording of it with the Mahler Youth Orchestra is a fine choice.


available at Amazon
Brahms / Korngold, Violin Concertos, N. Znaider, Vienna Philharmonic, V. Gergiev

(released on February 3, 2009)
RCA Red Seal 88697 10336 2
Given what we have written about the violin playing of Nikolaj Znaider, both live and on disc (Jens, too, both live and on disc, as well as Robert Reilly writing from London), one would expect the Dane to have a more mellifluous take on Brahms's ultra-dolce concerto (at least if you believe the score markings). Also a Queen Elisabeth Competition winner, in 1997, Znaider has made his velvety tone and elegant line into calling cards, and he delivers both in a heart-melting slow movement. Yet, listening to this disc side by side with Repin's, it was hard not to yearn for more of the Russian's bravura approach in the outer movements, which Znaider finishes in roughly a minute longer each. Some of the roughness and more technically assured derring-do, if not necessarily the brutal tone (which may be more a fault of the microphone placement for the Repin disc), would be much appreciated.

So, neither of these discs may be the ideal for the Brahms concerto, but where Znaider really makes this disc interesting, especially at the discounted price currently on offer at Amazon, is a suave, Hollywood-polished rendition of the Korngold violin concerto. It is hardly an unrecorded work and I, at least, could do without the folksy, Coplandesque third movement, just a little too campy of an American jig. In all the movements, Korngold cribs themes from his own film scores, among the best classic examples of the genre, and there are many moments where one can feel the studious eye of John Williams going over the score, learning his craft. The glossy sound has a good balance between the lush, Romantic wash of the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Valery Gergiev, and the warm singing of the "ex-Kreisler" Guarnerius that Znaider has the good fortune to play. At $11.98, this recording is a steal for the Korngold.


1 comment:

la. said...

I heard both of them, Znaider with the LSO and Sir Colin Davis in London, Repin with the VFO and Charles Dutoit in Verbier. And both were quite perfect in their ways: smooth and with the beautiful cello-doublebass sound I enjoy so much in the LSO, and young and energetic at the Verbier Festival, with the Russian passion and the impetuosity of the young orchestra.
The old fat Brahms and the tall young composer.

I tend to prefer the young Brahms as well! (Not because he looks very pretty on the early photographs.)(Well- not only.)