October 01, 2009


Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Romances Nos. 1 and 2; Fragment of Violin Concerto, WoO 5. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; Orchestre des Champs-Élysées conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. Naïve. $16.99.

Clara Schumann: Piano Concerto; Piano Trio; Romances for Violin and Piano. Veronica Jochum, piano; Bamberger Symphoniker conducted by Joseph Silverstein (Concerto); Veronica Jochum, piano; Joseph Silverstein, violin; Colin Carr, cello (Trio); Joseph Silverstein, violin; Veronica Jochum, piano (Romances). Tudor. $19.99.

Joaquín Gutiérrez Heras: Fantasia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra; Samuel Zyman: Cello Concerto; Ricardo Castro: Cello Concerto. Carlos Prieto, cello; Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa conducted by Miguel Prieto (Heras); Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional conducted by Enrique Diemecke (Zyman); Orquesta Sinfónica de Berlin conducted by Jorge Velazco (Castro). Urtext. $14.99.

     Although Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was not especially successful during the composer’s lifetime, it is impossible nowadays to think of it as a rarity. Nevertheless, the new performance by Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées under Philippe Herreweghe makes the work seem particularly fresh, partly because of the tempos chosen (which are intended to approximate the ones Beethoven wanted, to the extent that those are known); partly because of the use of period instruments, whose sonic world is different from that of modern ones; and partly because Kopatchinskaja – using a Giovanni Pressenda violin made in 1834 – not only plays with a light (pre-Romantic) touch but also uses variants of some passages included in Beethoven’s autography score. Add to this the soloist’s use of her own arrangements of Beethoven’s arrangements of cadenzas originally written for the piano version of this concerto – a possibility only in a recording, since overdubbing was needed to reproduce the full piano part on the violin – and you have a very unusual performance that enlivens the music while largely returning it to a version of its original form. And to continue the fascinations of this CD, there is a seven-minute fragment of an early Beethoven Violin Concerto, in C, which itself exhibits some very creative elements, such as the use of divided violas. Only the exposition and start of the development of the work’s first movement survive; hearing them makes for interesting speculation about what might have been, since there is evidence that at least the work’s first movement was completed. This CD is actually entitled “Beethoven: Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra,” and is rounded out with the two Romances, which receive lovely, lyrical but not overdone performances.

     Lyricism is only one element that stands out in Clara Schumann’s sole surviving orchestral work, her Piano Concerto – which remains a rarity, although it is not quite as uncommonly heard today as it as a few decades ago. There is an interesting parallel between this concerto and that of Clara’s husband, Robert Schumann: in each, the longest movement (Robert’s first, Clara’s third) was finished first and originally performed on its own, with the other two movements added later. Clara’s concerto does not sound much like Robert’s, having a style all its own that the composer surely intended to reflect her own considerable virtuosity as a performer. There is, not surprisingly, a sense of youthful liveliness here: the concerto was first performed when its composer was only 16, and was conducted at the time by Mendelssohn – whose friendship with Robert played a significant role in both composers’ works. The other Clara Schumann works on this CD show her compositional skill as well. The four-movement Piano Trio has poise and classical balance but retains a Romantic-era sensibility, while the three short Romances for violin and piano – which make an interesting contrast with Beethoven’s two for violin and orchestra – are warm and pleasant pieces of parlor music, musically attractive if not particularly deep. The performances date to 1988, and the CD itself is a re-release of one from 1992. Both the musicality and the sound have held up very well indeed.

     Even more of a rarity than Clara Schumann’s works are the three for cello and orchestra by Mexican composers, presented on a CD called “Three Centuries.” The title is slightly misleading: Ricardo Castro’s Cello Concerto was first performed in 1903, although apparently written around 1895. It is one of the better-known works by Mexico’s first symphonist and the first composer of a Mexican opera written in Spanish (Atzimba), but it is not particularly Mexican in sound despite the use of some Mexican thematic material. It is an effective, very lyrical work with passages of considerable beauty, showing Castro’s familiarity with European Romantic compositional style rather than moving in a distinctive direction of its own. Its warmth and expressiveness, especially as played by the excellent Carlos Prieto, are immediately appealing. Prieto was personally involved in the creation of the other two works on this CD: Zyman’s, first performed in 1990, was written for him, and Heras’, from 2005, is dedicated to him. Zyman’s is a big work, the longest on this recording, and shows a strong command of the orchestra as well as some influence of Zyman’s teachers, Roger Sessions and David Diamond. It uses 20th-century compositional techniques effectively, but is not bound or limited by them, and has emotional as well as intellectual impact. Heras’ fantasia, in contrast, is short and somewhat drier than the other pieces here, requiring plenty of virtuosity and good cooperation between soloist and orchestra. Prieto plays very effectively with all three orchestras and all three conductors heard on this disc, the CD as a whole being as much a tribute to his considerable abilities as it is a chance to hear some less-known works of the modern and Romantic cello repertoire.

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