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Hyperion Records

CDA67804 - David: Violin Concertos
CDA67804

Recording details: December 2009
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Will Brown
Release date: October 2010
DISCID: 440DF507
Total duration: 59 minutes 13 seconds

'Sweet melody coupled with passages of virtuosic fire, underpinned with graceful, discreet orchestral writing' (The Observer)

'Hagai Shaham delivers a fastidious and vivacious sympathy to the flow of figures, a real acolyte of an otherwise marginal repertory' (American Record Guide)

'David's slow movements are especially appealing … but you can turn almost anywhere here to find unreserved melodic delight … Hagai Shaham's playing is sweetness itself, and he's secure in every technical detail … under Martyn Brabbins' alert direction, the BBC Scottish players impart a refreshing clarity to David's Mendelssohnian orchestral writing, their attentiveness supported in Andrew Keener's transparent recording … in short, this disc offers an hour of unremitting pleasure which you would be daft to deny yourself' (International Record Review)

'Shaham and the BBC Scottish Symphony (at their most sparkling and sensitive under Martyn Brabbins) play with supreme virtuoso ease throughout … played like this, these concertos constantly delight with their deft invention. Exemplary sound too' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hagai Shaham pulls off that great virtuoso trick of making the music sound complex, but also making clear that he has every note under his fingers and that he is not sweating it. To non-violinist listeners, the greatest attraction of this music is its lyricism, and Shaham always brings this to the fore, especially in the exquisitely crafted middle movements … excellent playing from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who again demonstrate that they are a force to be reckoned with' (MusicWeb International)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Violin Concertos
Allegro  [11'55]
Allegro serioso  [10'56]
Adagio  [5'01]
Vivace  [7'50]

Ferdinand David is principally known today as the dedicatee of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto; he gave the premiere of the work in 1845. But in his time he was also celebrated as a composer, and Hyperion is delighted to present this disc of world premiere recordings as Volume 9 in the Romantic Violin Concerto series.

David was a prolific composer and his output included two symphonies, five violin concertos, a string sextet, quartets, several sets of variations and volumes of studies for violin, choral works and some Lieder. His works had considerable success in his lifetime, and their revival reveals highly attractive music of phenomenal accomplishment. Bearing in mind David’s close affinity with Mendelssohn it is hardly surprising that some of his music has a fairly Mendelssohnian character. This extends to the skilful handling of Classical forms with a rather more Romantic palette, but there is also an amiable individual character at work which produces music rich in wit and sentiment.

Hagai Shaham, a regular of this series and a master of the 19th-century virtuoso idiom, performs these works with his usual panache, ably accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The German violin virtuoso and composer Ferdinand David was born in Hamburg on 19 June 1810, the son of a prosperous businessman. (Older dictionaries give 19 January, but this appears to be an error.) By a remarkable coincidence, he came into the world in the same house in which Felix Mendelssohn, with whom his career would become entwined, had been born a year before. Like Mendelssohn, David was Jewish by birth, though later in life he converted to Christianity. He showed prodigious talent from an early age. From 1823 to 1824, in Kassel, he studied with the violinist-composers Louis Spohr and Moritz Hauptmann, and in 1825 made his public debut in Leipzig, performing with his sister Louise (1811–1850), who was a talented pianist. During the next two years he and Louise played also in Copenhagen, Dresden and Berlin. In 1827–8 he became a violinist in the orchestra of Berlin’s Königsstädtisches Theater, and it was at this time that he first made the acquaintance of Mendelssohn, with whom he played chamber music. In 1829 he became the leader of a string quartet in Dorpat in Livonia (now Tartu, Estonia) that was retained by a wealthy amateur, Baron von Liphardt (whose daughter Sophie he subsequently married). Having by this time made a name as a star violinist he undertook concert tours as far afield as Riga, St Petersburg and Moscow.

Following this period, largely spent in Russia, in 1835 David answered a call from Mendelssohn, who had been appointed conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig. He became the Konzertmeister (lead violinist and orchestra leader), a position he retained for the rest of his life; he also took charge of church music in the city, and from 1843, after two tours in England, he became professor of violin at the newly opened Leipzig Konservatorium. In 1845 David, playing on his 1742 Guarneri violin, gave the premiere of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which had been written for him (Mendelssohn had consulted him extensively on the solo part). Mendelssohn’s death in 1847 came as a severe blow to David, who served as a pall-bearer at the funeral. At the request of Mendelssohn’s brother Paul he cooperated with Moscheles, Hauptmann and Julius Rietz in editing the dead composer’s manuscripts.

Following Mendelssohn’s death David remained in Leipzig and through his influence made that city the internationally recognized centre of violin playing in Europe. His many pupils included Joseph Joachim, August Wilhelmj, Henry Schradieck, Ludwig Abel, Engelbert Röntgen (father of the composer Julius Röntgen) and Wagner’s nephew Alexander Ritter. In his later decades he was more active as a conductor, finding violin playing difficult due to various nervous complaints, while chest ailments sometimes made it difficult for him to breathe. David died suddenly of a heart attack on 18 July 1873 near Klosters, Switzerland, while on the Silvretta Glacier with his family.

He wrote about forty works, including an opera titled Hans Wacht (which he withdrew after its two performances in 1852), two symphonies, five violin concertos, a string sextet, quartets, several sets of variations (some of them on national airs) and volumes of studies for violin, choral works and some Lieder. His two concertinos, one for trombone and orchestra, Op 4 (1837), the other for bassoon (or viola) and orchestra, Op 12—both significant contributions to a limited repertoire, especially the former, one of the first solo works for trombone ever composed—are prized by players of those instruments. It was largely due to David that much early music of the Italian, French, and German schools was preserved. Not only was he active in editing works by Haydn, Beethoven and others, but he edited and published, for purposes of study, a significant proportion of the Classical repertoire of the violin. He prepared editions of studies by Kreutzer, Rode, Fiorillo, Gaviniés and Paganini, of concertos by Kreutzer and Rode, and published the first practical edition of J S Bach’s unaccompanied violin works, which he often played in public. His most celebrated feat of editing is Die Hohe Schule des Violinspiels: Werke Berühmter Meister des 17ten und 18ten Jahrhunderts, which contains selections from Porpora, Tartini, Vivaldi, Leclair, Bach and many others.

David’s playing was said to combine the emotional qualities of Spohr with the increased brilliance and technical skill of his contemporaries. But though a virtuoso of the highest calibre, David did not prize virtuosity for its own sake, and he was almost universally esteemed by his composer-contemporaries: not only Mendelssohn but Berlioz, and later Brahms, for example. It is nevertheless probably true that he was more admired as a performer than a composer, and is remembered most for his editorial activities. Yet his works had considerable success in his lifetime, and their revival reveals highly attractive music of phenomenal accomplishment. Bearing in mind David’s close affinity with Mendelssohn it is hardly surprising that some of his music has a fairly Mendelssohnian character. This extends to the skilful handling of Classical forms with a rather more Romantic palette, but there is also an amiable individual character at work which produces music rich in wit and sentiment.

In several cases the dates of composition of David’s works are only approximately known. This is the case with the Andante and Scherzo capriccioso, Op 16, which evidently dates from the early 1840s (indeed quite possibly from 1843, the year in which David played Berlioz’s Rêverie et Caprice, which his Op 16 somewhat resembles, under the composer’s baton). This well-balanced diptych offers plenty of opportunities for display, but has more substance than many another bravura showpieces. The Andante begins in D major. After a short and stealthy orchestral introduction the violin announces a tender, lyrical main theme, immediately characterized by the dotted rhythm of its head-motif. It then embellishes it with decorative figuration, but the sweetly melodic character of the music is not disturbed.

The whole movement is really only an introduction, however, to the Scherzo capriccioso, launched by the violin’s final ascent in harmonics from the last bar of the Andante. Cast at the outset in D minor, this is a sort of diabolic—or perhaps impish, for its character suggests mischief rather than harm—tarantella of great velocity and brilliance, recalling Berlioz as much as Mendelssohn, though the orchestral tuttis have a solid, Beethovenian ring to them. There is a lilting second subject, and at the centre of the movement dramatic solo entries (fortissimo on the lowest string) introduce an elegant, contrastingly serenade-like tune in C major closely allied to the Andante theme (though there is no slackening of pace here), which is embellished by increasingly bravura double-stopping, and developed in a volatile and fiery manner. All three subjects are reprised, the serenade-like one now in A major and leading into a barnstorming D major coda whose final fff cadential bars must have been guaranteed to bring down the Gewandhaus.

Rather more imposing in character, the Violin Concerto No 4 in E major, Op 23 is among David’s most substantial compositions with orchestra. The first movement’s short opening tutti is broadly Classical in outlook, opening with a suave theme for strings and woodwind that is immediately contrasted with a perky march tune for wind instruments and a more lyrical, Mendelssohnian string melody. The violin enters con fuoco in an expressive counter-exposition of this material at much greater length and volubility. A turn to C major instates a Mendelssohnian tune, dolce ed espressivo, as a full-blown second subject, rising to an emotional climax. The rhythms of the march tune then serve as the propulsive power for a development centred almost entirely on the volatile solo line. After a short dramatic orchestral tutti, solo and orchestra combine in a recapitulation which could be described as a second development, because of the remarkably expressive and fluid variants and decorations continually being introduced by the violin. The second subject returns in C major but moves tutta forza into the tonic E. In the coda the solo writing grows yet more ornate and brilliant.

The slow movement, an Adagio cantabile in C major, has a beautiful, almost hymn-like opening tune, at first accompanied only by strings. Discreet chromatic turns of phrase do not detract from the tenderness of this charming music. A more agitated theme in A minor (appassionato) introduces a troubled middle section, and then the opening tune returns against a murmuring viola counterpoint in A major before being stated grandly by the soloist with triple- and quadruple-stopping in C major. The more agitated theme returns briefly before a peaceful coda. Although the principal focus of all three movements is (of course) the violin, David scores for the orchestra with exemplary sensitivity and delicacy, and this movement is a prime example of that virtue.

The finale is an Allegretto grazioso sonata-rondo in jig time, with a pert, capricious main subject, immediately presented with scintillating violin virtuosity. A flamboyant risoluto is the first episode, followed by a suaver, dolce subject. A return of the main subject leads to a rumbustious tutti, out of which emerges a timpani solo, with which the violin dialogues before returning to the rondo tune. The dolce melody reappears in the tonic E major, until the jig tune takes over again. The timpanist now urges the music forward into a capricious coda, Presto, in which the violin drives merrily to the finish. Though this is in many ways a display concerto, it is rather unusual in that it does not contain a cadenza.

David’s Violin Concerto No 5 in D minor, Op 35 is—at least in its first two movements—a work of more serious character, deploying an orchestra which (unlike that of No 4) includes trombones. Indeed, it begins Allegro serioso with a substantial orchestral tutti establishing an atmosphere of Sturm und Drang through its rising, thrusting opening theme with prominent dotted rhythm. There is a plaintive second idea, and then a chorale-like phrase on the horns introduces the violin’s first entry, with an espressivo variant of the opening theme. Throughout this work, in fact, David uses the orchestra in a more atmospheric and colourful way than in No 4, although it is still outshone by the marvellously conceived solo part. The soloist now embarks on a full-blown counter-exposition, finding pathos where the orchestra found drama, but also plenty of opportunities for bravura turns of phrase. The soloist then moves on to a more feminine dolce theme that adds a new element, and rhapsodizes up to a stern D minor tutti, marked by the first entry of the trombones. From here on begins the development, in which the violin takes up a variant of the dolce theme before re-working all the subjects with continuous bravura. The stormy, harried emotional atmosphere mounts until the dolce tune returns, sweetly indeed, in A major. Recapitulation blends with an ever more brilliant coda, the climax coming with the violin singing out ff largamente over dramatic string tremolos before the stentorian final bars.

A romantic horn solo opens the G major Adagio, leading the violin to share a touching cantilena of elevated nostalgia. Such music might be described as sentimental, but it is also beautiful, and charmingly conceived in its orchestral setting. It rises to a passionate protestation, and then an ad libitum link (it is too short to call it a cadenza) leads into the final cadence, which segues directly into the finale. Starting with excited orchestral preparation, this Vivace movement is a headlong, breathless dance that finds us seemingly among Mendelssohn’s fairies, with the violin the most brilliant elfin dancer of all. The orchestra adds enthusiastic assent to its caperings. A con grazia episode in A major moves in a slightly statelier measure, but the sense of fun is never lost. A larger tutti introduces a broader espressivo tune in F major, but the principal Peaseblossom dance soon returns. The con grazia subject comes back in D major (as if to prove the movement a sonata-rondo); and then for a moment we hear a tender reminiscence of the Adagio’s cantilena. Only for a moment, however, for the fairies are off again, into a molto animato coda of irresistible élan. This scintillating, will-o’-the-wisp affair, with its echoes of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream music, is such an original and delightful invention that one is amazed this concerto is not better known. It may be ‘violinist’s music’, but it is an example of the genre that we can all enjoy.

Calum MacDonald © 2010


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