violin concerto

  • Exploring Rare Double Concertos and the Teenage Mendelssohn

     Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in d; Concerto for Violin and Piano
    Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin.  Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano.
    Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar
    Brilliant Classics 95733
    Total Time:  66:13
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Haydn: Concerto for Violin and Piano in F, Hob. XVIII: 6;
    Hummel: Concerto for Violin and Piano in G Op. 17
    Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin.  Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano.
    Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar
    Centaur 3742
    Total Time:  56:22
    Recording:   (*)***/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Over the course of four days in November, 2017, violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv recorded four rarer concerti with Theodore Kuchar and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra.  The results have turned up on two different labels with the Mendelssohn having been released in 2019 and the other more recently.  Ivakhiv teaches at the University of Connecticut and Longy School of Music at Bard College.  In her own personal studies she worked with Joseph Silverstein among others.  She has traveled widely as a soloist and chamber musician.  Over the past decade she has also served as the Artistic Director of the “Music at the Institute” at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City.

    Felix Mendelssohn’s work is featured on the 2019 release.  Here, Ivakhiv has chosen not the overly familiar last concerto (which has more than 200 current versions to choose from in the catalogue), but two early works composed by the 13-year-old composer—the period of the more familiar string symphonies.  First discovered and performed by Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s, the work has not really gained a foothold in the repertory.  At best it becomes a work that reveals the amazing precociousness of the composer, something not really in doubt.  The 1822 concerto is cast in the traditional three movements with a written out cadenza in the last two movements.  It certainly helps see the way the Mozartean influences now filtered through a budding romantic sensibility.  Mendelssohn melds some of the new French performance techniques of his own teacher, Eduard Reitz, into the solo part.  And so, it is an interesting musicological curiosity.  Ivakhiv’s approach helps highlight the emotional lyricism of the work played with the sort of commitment that is often absent from other readings.  There is also some fine cello writing that adds some emotional breadth in the slow movement.  The same might also be said for the other work on the album, the Concerto for Violin and Piano in d (1823).   Here we see further development of Mendelssohn’s compositional skills even within the six months that separated the works here.  On another level, it is also another run of exploring the same key center.  The opening is a bit more tumultuous and quiet lengthy (running almost 20 minutes on its own).  A bit more Beethoven casts its shadow here coupled with Mozart, and even perhaps a nod to Bach.  It is certainly striking to hear the intriguing modulations and harmonic writing coupled with a growing command and understanding of orchestral writing.  This will certainly make the music intriguing to fans of early Romanticism and the opening solo passages are certainly more impassioned.  It certainly was an ambitious work for the young Mendelssohn and may very well be one of his longer large-scale orchestral works running to 40 minutes—a bit overlong in the long run.  There are also some moments where the orchestra seems to push the tempo and are pulled back slightly.

    The second release here on the Centaur label explores two works of Classical Era composers, though both are somewhat at the cusp of musical shifts.  First is a double concerto by Haydn.  Composed in 1766, the center of the composer’s Sturm and Drang period (though leaning toward a more Rococo sensibility), the work is likely for either harpsichord or organ as its keyboard source, though here a piano is chosen.  Certainly it allows for the two to balance well in the texture.  The work is cast in the traditional three-movement form.  The keyboard still has an almost continuo-like quality at times, integrated into the string texture before it surfaces as the solo instrument.  The central “Largo” is a rather serene moment of beauty which is then capped off by a thrilling “Presto” with a certain modicum of wit.  Echoes of the Baroque still abound in the work with sequences and immediate imitation between the soloists as well as between soloist and orchestra helping to move the music smoothly along.  The feel of the work is more like a church sonata/concerto hybrid.  Pompa-Baldi provides sublime, Mozartean qualities to his performance and certainly bodes well for him as a Mozartean.  Ivakhiv provides a committed performance here as well with some gorgeous playing in the slow movement.  It is here as well where articulation is so wonderfully matched between the soloists.

    Hummel’s double concerto was composed around 1805.  Its first movement features some intriguing dark harmonic shifts in the development section with some exciting cadenza moments.  The central movement is a set of theme and variations that are an excellent example of the composer’s orchestral style and features some wonderful touches throughout the movement.  The finale is a brilliant “Rondo” filled with storms and excitement.  Hummel’s work builds more on Mozart here though the wind writing is a bit more interesting with nice colorful thematic statements.  The solo theme is a lyrical idea that is quite beautiful on violin.  It is also interesting to hear some additional wind work under some of these moments with strings also working to help add a harmonic undercurrent.  This is where Beethoven’s approach is perhaps the louder echo, but it is also a real hallmark of the increased exploration of the orchestra which Hummel is equally adept at, even if the melodic ideas can seem less weighty at times.  Otherwise, there is more an air of Mozart in the elegant music that Hummel crafts here.

    The sound on the Brilliant Classics release is warm and inviting with well-imaged solo delineation.  The orchestra seems to respond a bit more to the Mendelssohn pieces, perhaps out of a sense of awe at the work of a teenager.  The performances are certainly fine enough and committed to presenting the music quite well.  The double concerto is interesting, but quite lengthy with material not quite sustaining itself through, this is offset by the brilliant solo writing though.  Both Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi find a great deal of joy to bring out, especially in the opening movement with its almost salon-like lightness.  But even here, it is hard to overcome all those sequences and repeated gestures that are peppered throughout the piece.  The Centaur recording is a tad dry (especially in the Haydn), though that tends to emphasize clarity.  The soloists are well-imaged in the sound picture though.  Rather oddly, there is no information about these pieces in the meager booklet insert which focuses on performer biographies.  The Haydn is a fine performance on modern instruments and will make a nice introduction to these pieces.  His concerti continue to be less prominent but are no less worthy of their time.  The Hummel is not anything that will stay in the ear long, but it is a well-crafted work of its time.

    For those looking for unique repertoire, these albums are certainly worth seeking out.  Both Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi provide committed performances throughout both releases.  It is more a matter of personal taste as to which one might prefer over the other in this overall rare traversal of less popular repertoire.


  • A More Conservative Richard Strauss


    Strauss: Concertante Works
    Julie Price, bassoon; Tasmin Little, violin. Michael McHale, piano.
    BBC Symphony Orchestra/Michael Collins, clarinet
    Chandos 20034
    Total Time:  76:53
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    For fans of Richard Strauss’ music, this new Chandos release will fill in a host of gaps of marginalia in the composer’s vast output.  The album pulls together four fairly rare works that will be unfamiliar to most listeners, apart from the Burleske for piano and orchestra which opens the album.  The other real draw here will be one of these last performances by violinist Tasmin Little of the violin concerto as the virtuoso plans to retire from performing.  All but one of these pieces comes from early in Strauss’ output.

    Strauss’ Burleske (1885-86) is in the grand Romantic tradition and is like a mini-concerto of sorts.  Michael McHale tackles this piece well with gestures that sometimes feel more Rachmaninov-like in the opening bars.  The performance is overall quite good making for a strong opening to the album that can hold its own against others in the catalog.

    The other three pieces though are going to be the more intriguing for Strauss fans.  The quite intimate Duett-Concertino, TRV 293 (1947) is a charming piece.  The clarinet and bassoon take on character-like dialogue with rather beautiful writing for both.  While there is no program, Strauss had a mild suggestion of a fairy (the clarinet) and a bear (the bassoon) that might have only been the germ of what would evolve into this little work.  Written toward the end of his life, the piece has a very conservative tonal palette.  The gestures are still quite like his other mature works, but they have been tamped down in a piece that spins along.  To see just how “old-fashioned” the piece is one need listen no further than the beautiful clarinet Romanze, TRV 80 (1879) which has a rather Mozartean quality.  It is from his earliest days of composition when he was still not quite writing music enraptured by Wagnerian harmony.

    The more substantial Violin Concerto in d, TRV 110 (1881-82) was composed for his violin teacher, Benno Walter.  Walter would perform this in a piano reduction form to some appreciation and then in 1890 again in its orchestral version.  This too is a fairly convention work in the tradition of Brahms.  A traditional opening movement features some beautifully lyrical writing and a little rhythmic interest along the way.  The orchestral writing stays fairly traditional but is already quite competent.  There is a brief slow movement and a rondo finale.  For those who know the Strauss of the tone poems and grandiose symphonic chromaticism, this will seem almost anachronistic.  Fortunately, it has Tasmin Little to advocate for the piece giving it as fine a performance as one would hope.

    This collection of conservative Romanticism from a composer known more for his expansive chromaticism and orchestral color will be a place to hear some of the ways this later style evolved.  For those who dislike that distinct Strauss style, this will be some pleasant and engaging Late-Romantic music that is firmly in line with other music of the 1870s and 1880s.

    The performances here are all quite excellent.  Michael Collins finds gorgeous tone for the clarinet pieces where he is the soloist.  He also is on the podium to provide a larger continuity to the approach in all these works.  The BBC orchestra is in top form as well and captured in an excellent sonic picture with the violin being imaged a bit forward.