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Hyperion Records

CDA67847 - Schumann: Violin Concertos

Recording details: November 2011
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Release date: September 2012
DISCID: 66104707
Total duration: 69 minutes 24 seconds


'In a performance as strong and imaginative as this one by Anthony Marwood its impact is considerable. The sinew of the first movement, with its bold opening statement and toughness of inner workings, is contrasted with the mellow, reflective lyricism of the central slow one and with the gentle whimsicalities of the polonaise finale. There are firm Schumann fingerprints all over the score, and it fully merits the passionate advocacy that it receives here, both from Marwood as soloist and from Douglas Boyd’s astutely balanced conducting of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This is Vol 13 of Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series, sensibly completed with two other Schumann works. The A minor Violin Concerto is a transcription by the composer himself of his Cello Concerto, done in 1853 but never performed in his lifetime. The violin version, not surprisingly, gives the music a brighter, airier perspective than the original for cello, with a particular sparkle to the finale, and Marwood here coaxes out its expressive niceties and vitality with an assured touch' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Marwood and the BBC Scottish Symphony under Douglas Boyd go at it with a great deal of enthusiasm, with the solo line very prominent in the sound picture. The single-movement Phantasie in C is more cogent and rewarding, while the 'Violin Concerto in A minor' is a real curiosity—the composer's 1853 recasting of his Cello Concerto in the same key' (The Guardian)

'Anthony Marwood, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Douglas Boyd in alert support, makes absolutely the best case for the Schumann Violin Concerto, bringing fire where necessary to the first movement and a nice relaxation to the seraphic slow movement … the C major Phantasie for violin and orchestra … is the real McCoy: it brought to mind such pieces as the magnificent four-horn Konzertstück in its combination of inner strength, free-flowing contrasts and lyric warmth … the poise of the soloist, the responsiveness of the Scottish orchestra and the fine recording make the best possible case for yet another neglected work, as indeed they do for this release as a whole' (International Record Review)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Violin Concertos
Langsam –  [5'57]
Nicht zu schnell  [10'22]
Langsam –  [3'54]
Sehr lebhaft  [7'27]

Hyperion is pleased to present a thirteenth volume of the Romantic Violin Concerto. Although frequently featuring virtuoso showpieces by the composer–violinists of the nineteenth century, this series also includes works of great musical interest which for one reason or another have not entered the repertoire. The performance history of all three pieces recorded here is indissolubly linked with the turmoil of Schumann’s last years.

Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor had to wait till 1937 for its premiere and has never become a standard work, but in the hands of Anthony Marwood it sounds remarkable. The Phantasie, by contrast, was lauded at its premiere and performed a number of times by Joachim. The Violin Concerto in A minor was arranged by Schumann from his Cello Concerto of the same opus number and is an important work in its own right.

Marwood’s great technique and thoughtful musicianship have made him increasingly an artist to notice, and he performs frequently in Australia and America as well as throughout Europe. Here he is accompanied by Hyperion’s ‘house band’, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Douglas Boyd.

Other recommended albums
'Stanford: Cello Concertos' (CDA67859)
Stanford: Cello Concertos
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67859 
'Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell: Violin Concertos' (CDA67420)
Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell: Violin Concertos
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67420  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'David: Violin Concertos' (CDA67804)
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'Cliffe & Erlanger: Violin Concertos' (CDA67838)
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'Reger: Violin Concertos' (CDA67892)
Reger: Violin Concertos
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Inspired by the company of young musicians—the violinist Joseph Joachim and the composers Albert Dietrich and Johannes Brahms—in 1853 Schumann enjoyed what proved to be an Indian summer: a final creative flowering before his untimely demise. By the end of the year, he had resigned his position as municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf. The following February, after attempting suicide, Schumann asked to be admitted to an asylum outside Bonn, where he remained until his death on 29 July 1856.

Awareness of Schumann’s illness cast a long shadow over much of the music from his final years. Unlike other artists, whose late works were perceived as profound or radical (think of Beethoven, Rembrandt, or Shakespeare), Schumann’s were considered to show signs of creative weakness. Despite popular images of the ‘mad’ Romantic genius, genuine mental illness carried social stigma. (Schumann experienced mood swings and hallucinations and may have suffered from bipolar disease; he had also contracted syphilis in his early twenties.) While the executors of Schumann’s musical estate—his widow Clara, Brahms and Joachim—have often been criticized for suppressing late works such as those included on this recording, they did so in the belief that they were preserving his reputation. Yet Schumann’s works from the 1850s were also different in style from those he had composed the previous decade and what may once have seemed like eccentricities, even failures, can with hindsight be appreciated as innovations.

Joachim had played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto under Schumann’s direction at the Lower Rhine Music Festival in August 1853, and encouraged him to write something in a similar vein (‘violinists … have so few opportunities, besides chamber music, to show off their instruments’, Joachim complained). Schumann swiftly produced the Phantasie for violin and orchestra, Op 131, a transcription of his Cello Concerto Op 129, the Violin Concerto, and the third Violin Sonata (the latter growing from the Sonata he, Dietrich and Brahms had composed on Joachim’s motto F.A.E.—‘Frei aber einsam’, or ‘free but lonely’). Joachim immediately performed the Phantasie in Düsseldorf, and later in Leipzig and Hannover; none of the remaining pieces received a premiere until long after Schumann’s death.

The Phantasie in C major, Op 131 was declared, after its Leipzig performance, to be Schumann’s best concert piece. It is cast in one movement, with a gentle A minor introduction which is recalled in the following C major Allegro—a thematic cross-reference characteristic of Schumann’s music from the 1850s. The soloist mostly elaborates on melodic material laid out by the orchestra, with the exception of the cadenza which—again, typically—Schumann composed rather than leaving the violinist to improvise. Then, just before the coda, the roles of soloist and orchestra are reversed: as in the first movement of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto, the violin’s ricochet figure becomes an accompaniment for the orchestral theme. After Schumann’s death attitudes towards the Phantasie changed: heard through the filter of his illness, it seemed painted in gloomy colours and, while some conceded that when played well it proved surprisingly effective, it fell out of the repertoire.

The Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 129 is an arrangement by the composer of his Op 129 Cello Concerto, with a straightforward recasting of the solo part. This was the first orchestral work Schumann composed after taking up his post as Music Director in Düsseldorf in September 1850 (the Concerto was completed between 11 and 24 October). The move marked a fresh start for the composer, who had spent the first half of the year mostly composing songs. Now, in response to his new public role, his focus changed to large-scale works: the Cello Concerto was swiftly followed by the ‘Rhenish’ Symphony No 3, Op 97, and the Overture to Schiller’s Braut von Messina, Op 100.

After hearing the Concerto played through by the cellist Christian Reimers, Clara praised its Romanticism, verve, freshness and humour; an 1855 review in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung recognized Schumann as a representative of the so-called new-Romantic school. The work’s novelty lay in its reconfiguration of the relationship between soloist and orchestra, the formal arrangement of the movements and its adventurous harmonies (particularly in the finale). Soloist and orchestra seem at first to exist in separate spheres: the former reflective and rhapsodic, the latter trying to chivvy the music along by introducing livelier themes. Gradually the orchestra takes up fragments of the soloist’s melody, especially its opening ascent, the reappearance of which marks the transition between the second and third movements. By the sonata-rondo finale, soloist and orchestra work more closely together, sharing themes, and indicating that Schumann conceived the concerto on symphonic, rather than purely virtuosic, terms.

Despite the high regard in which the Cello Concerto is held today, Schumann found it impossible to arrange a premiere. Correspondence with Frankfurt-based cellist Robert Bockmühl and with Franz Messer, director of the Cäcilienverein, came to nothing: they thought the work too hard to perform, even after Schumann had reduced the tempo of the first movement and altered the cadenza. The Cello Concerto was not heard in public until 1860, when it was played by Ludwig Ebert at the celebrations in Oldenburg for what would have been the composer’s fiftieth birthday. Schumann had prepared a transcription of the Cello Concerto for violin in 1853, probably in the hope that it would be performed by Joachim. No such event has been recorded, but working on the score did lead Schumann to revise the cello version for publication by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1854.

An early review of the score, by violinist and composer Karl Böhmer, suggested that the Concerto might have been better suited to piano accompaniment. Many critics have questioned Schumann’s skills as an orchestrator (indeed, Dmitri Shostakovich re-orchestrated the Cello Concerto in 1963), but comparing the versions for cello and violin reveals how carefully he arranged soloist and orchestra—particularly in the original. There are no substantive differences between the cello and violin versions: the orchestral score remains the same, with the solo line simply transposed up an octave or two. However, the transcription for violin alters the instrumental colours, or timbre, of the work. In the first version, the relatively low register of the cello means its melodies sit in the middle of the orchestral texture; by contrast, the violin stands proud, above the orchestra. The change is particularly evident in the slow movement, where there is a prominent cello accompaniment: in the Cello Concerto, the two lines entwine; in the violin equivalent, high and low voices are divided.

A fair copy of Schumann’s transcription of the Cello Concerto, bearing annotations by the composer, was discovered among Joachim’s papers in 1987, after which an edition was prepared by Joachim Draheim. It was first performed in Cologne that year, by Saschko Gawriloff with the Westfälischen Symphony Orchestra under Walter Gillessen.

As with the Phantasie, Schumann sent the score of the Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO23 (composed between 27 September and 3 October 1853) to Joachim for advice, but this time the violinist was less enthusiastic. While he praised the melody of the slow movement, for the most part he found the solo part unidiomatic (Schumann’s extensive use of arpeggiated figures perhaps reflected his recent immersion in the Sonatas and Partitas of J S Bach, for which he had devised piano accompaniments). Joachim later admitted that he thought the music showed signs of exhaustion. It was to be Schumann’s last orchestral work.

The Violin Concerto is a grandiose, minor-key counterpart to Beethoven’s example. It opens with a brooding theme played by full orchestra; the lyrical second subject then makes a brief appearance before the violin enters. The form of this movement and the relationship between soloist and orchestra is much more conventional than that of the Cello Concerto but, again, the second and third movements are connected. Here, though, it is music from the slow movement that reappears in the finale: the syncopated orchestral theme. It is somewhat surprising that Schumann did not choose to recall the soloist’s melody instead, for it had a habit of turning up in other places: it resembles the opening vocal line of Frühlings Ankunft, Op 79 No 19, the middle section of ‘Vogel as Prophet’ from Waldszenen, and the Allegro of Norbert Burgmüller’s Second Symphony, which Schumann had recently orchestrated. The melody is also strikingly similar to the one he claimed was dictated to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn during hallucinations he experienced in February 1854, on which he wrote piano variations (commonly referred to, with some poetic licence, as the Geistervariationen).

Joachim found the finale of the Violin Concerto overly repetitious, a criticism often levelled at Schumann’s late music. Occasionally, the impression of repetitiveness resulted from the composer focusing on a limited number of thematic motifs. On other occasions, it indicates an ill-chosen tempo. In the case of the Violin Concerto, until a new edition appeared in the 1980s, performers tended to take the second movement more slowly than the autograph suggested, while pushing the finale’s polonaise forward.

Despite rehearsing the work with Hannover’s Court Orchestra, Joachim never performed the Concerto in public and recommended that it should not be published until one hundred years after Schumann’s death (a view with which his fellow-executors of the composer’s musical estate, Clara and Brahms, concurred). However, in 1933 Joachim’s great-nieces, the violinists Jelly d’Arányi and Adila Fachiri, claimed to have received instructions from beyond the grave that they should seek out Schumann’s concerto. (On a more prosaic level, they may have been aware that the first movement had been played at the tenth anniversary of the Schumann Gesellschaft in Zwickau three years earlier.) The score was located in the Prussian State Library and, against the wishes of Schumann’s daughter Eugenie, was prepared for publication by Schott, with the assistance of composer Paul Hindemith. The Violin Concerto was premiered before Nazi luminaries Robert Ley and Joseph Goebbels on 26 November 1937, played by Georg Kulenkampff and the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Karl Böhm. What for decades had been considered a failure was now, for political reasons, heralded as a masterpiece—even as a replacement for Mendelssohn’s popular Violin Concerto (which was barred from performance because of the composer’s Jewish roots). Ten days later Yehudi Menuhin—who as a Russian-American Jew had not been allowed to give the premiere in Germany—performed the concerto with piano accompaniment at New York’s Carnegie Hall; he subsequently played the full version with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Menuhin recognized Schumann’s Violin Concerto as the ‘missing link’ between Beethoven and Brahms. He claimed it has the ‘same human warmth, caressing softness, bold manly rhythms, the same lovely arabesque treatment of the violin, the same rich and noble themes and harmonies’. Schumann’s debt to Beethoven can be detected in the way he embeds the solo violin within the orchestra; they work as partners, sharing material. Brahms is forecast in the way Schumann makes motivic connections between movements. We can thus hear these works for violin and orchestra less as marking the end of Schumann’s career, than as a bridge between generations.

Laura Tunbridge © 2012

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