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Hyperion Records

CDA67940 - Glazunov & Schoeck: Works for violin and orchestra
CDA67940

Recording details: October 2011
Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: March 2013
DISCID: 5F103508
Total duration: 69 minutes 9 seconds

'Schoeck's Concerto is, indeed, highly romantic but in a subtle, refined way … Hanslip gives a most convincing performance; her unobtrusive musicianship, with subtle variations in tone to match the emotional colour of each phrase, is admirably suited to the music's refined expressiveness. Throughout the disc, the orchestral contribution is splendidly clear and well balanced. Hanslip is also persuasive in the Glazunov concerto … the purity and neatness of her playing bring an effortless sparkle to the concerto's finale' (Gramophone)

'Glazunov's once extremely popular Violin Concerto should delight. Here full-blooded lyricism meets virtuoso delirious high spirits' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A spry, tenderly phrased performance of Glazunov's delightful concerto launches the first part of Chloë Hanslip's impressively played programme, with the addition of two exquisite miniatures … Hanslip and the Swiss/Italian orchestra respond well to the Schoeck concerto's late-Romantic language and voice it with discreet passion' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Melting lyricism and romantic / rhapsodic character, masking structural vagaries under a blanket of charm … known mainly for his Lieder, Schoeck wrote a concerto of soulful reverie, which Hanslip captures with breathtaking eloquence' (Financial Times)

'Perhaps as an 'offspring' of her tutelage under the Russian pedagogue Zakhar Bron and iconoclast violinist Ida Haendel, Ms Hanslip harbors an acquired affection for these two composers, bringing to the infrequent Schoeck Concerto (1910-1911) a rare commitment and resonant vitality. Much of Hanslip’s playing of the music of Glazounov hearkens back to the artistry of Nathan Milstein, whose fondness and natural expertise in the Glazounov Violin Concerto (1904) and Meditation (1891) possessed an equally illumined elegance. In terms of lyric outpouring, the one-movement concerto provides a fluid, singing vehicle for Hanslip' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Glazunov & Schoeck: Works for violin and orchestra
Moderato  [4'26]
Allegro  [5'53]
Allegretto  [13'22]

The brilliant young violinist Chloë Hanslip has recorded another volume of Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series, and displays her usual insouciant virtuosity and obvious delight in the music.

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, written for Leopold Auer, is a masterpiece of violin writing, including a brilliantly effective cadenza by the composer himself. As Hans Keller wrote, ‘Glazunov created an almost perfect concerto—instrumentally, the best I know amongst pianists’ violin concertos’.

Swiss composer Othmar Schoek is probably best known for his Lieder. His Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat major, Op 21, for violin and full orchestra is his most substantial concert work. The lyric passion and attractiveness of the work’s ideas earn it a distinguished place among the violin concertos of the immediate pre-World War I period.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The star pupil of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Glazunov in his turn became one of the greatest composition teachers in Russia. He was director of the St Petersburg Conservatoire from 1905—through the 1917 Revolution (after which it was the Leningrad Conservatoire)—until the 1920s, and he was an early supporter of Shostakovich, though his own music remained rooted in the romantic ‘Russian Nationalist’ style of the previous century. He was very prolific (among many other works, he composed nine symphonies, seven string quartets, three ballets and two piano concertos) but it is probably his single violin concerto that has best stood the test of time and gained a permanent place in the repertoire.

Glazunov wrote the Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 82, in 1904–5 when he was at the height of his fame in Russia, partly in St Petersburg and partly at his summer home in Oserki where the pastoral setting, near forest and lake, lent something to the concerto’s lyrical mood. It was premiered on 15 February 1905 in St Petersburg at a concert of the Russian Music Society, conducted by the composer, with the great violinist Leopold Auer (to whom it is dedicated) as the soloist. It was Auer’s fourteen-year-old pupil Mischa Elman who gave the first performances outside Russia in the same year, helping to build the work’s international reputation. Hans Keller claimed that Glazunov’s treatment of the solo violin’s character made the work ‘something quite unique … a violin concerto which could have been written by a fiddler, even though he himself didn’t play the instrument … Glazunov created an almost perfect concerto—instrumentally, the best I know amongst pianists’ violin concertos’. (We should note, however, that Testimony, the much-disputed ‘memoirs’ of Shostakovich, asserts that Glazunov played many instruments—the violin among them—‘perfectly’.) Whatever the truth of this, it is certainly the case that Glazunov wrote his own brilliantly effective cadenza for the concerto and there is no question that this is a superbly imagined work with the solo part beautifully integrated into the overall design.

Essentially Glazunov’s violin concerto is in a single continuous movement, probably modelled on the piano concertos of Liszt, which Glazunov much admired. There is a concise exposition, with a dolce, espressivo violin theme as its main focus. The ensuing Andante section, which is in a self-contained ternary form that somehow fits smoothly into the evolving design of the concerto, is distinguished by contributions from harp and horn and introduces a new tranquillo theme before moving on to a development of the exposition material. After the recapitulation has run its course Glazunov includes a solo cadenza, fully integrated into the structure as a link to the fast finale section (Shostakovich would do likewise in his string concertos). As the cadenza draws to a close a solo trumpet states the bold main theme of the rondo finale, a ‘hunting’ tune in the style of an exuberant Cossack dance. There are two subsidiary ideas, one light and charming, the other altogether more rustic, but taken together the three themes add up to a vivacious and high-spirited send-off for an altogether masterly concerto.

Glazunov’s only previous work for solo violin, the Meditation in D major, Op 32, for violin and piano or orchestra was composed in 1891, apparently as a simple lyric piece for salon or concert hall. It was a popular recital and encore piece in the early twentieth century and exists in several arrangements apart from Glazunov’s own: the British composer John Foulds, for example, made a version for violin and chamber orchestra. The piece is a tranquil and very beautiful melodic outpouring, based throughout on the romantic theme heard at the outset, and using the entire range of the violin while being accompanied with exquisite harmonic restraint.

Altogether more substantial is the rarely heard Mazurka-oberek in D major, likewise written for violin with either piano or orchestral accompaniment, in the fateful year 1917. Glazunov had been a prolific composer up to around the time he wrote the violin concerto, but thereafter his responsibilities as head of the St Petersburg Conservatoire weighed heavily on his time and he wrote comparatively few works in the remaining thirty years of his life. During the First World War he composed a small number of works with patriotic associations and it is possible that the Mazurka-oberek falls into this category since it is based on Polish dances and the Russian army had been doing much of its fighting on the Polish front.

The dance which has become known as the Mazurka (in Polish, Mazurek) takes that name from the district of Mazovia, around Warsaw, originally inhabited by the Slavic ethnic group known as the Mazurs: though it has come to be a general designation applied to a number of dances from that area, principally the moderate-paced Mazur, the slow Kujawiak and the fast Oberek, which share similar features. All these dances, which would normally have been danced to the accompaniment of a bagpipe and fiddle, are in triple time, with a dotted rhythm and a strong accent (signalling a tap of the heel) on the second or third beat. These features can clearly be heard in Glazunov’s piece, which also shows he is aware of the distinctions between the various forms of the dance.

Beginning Allegro vivo with bagpipe imitations in the orchestra and a repetitive theme which recurs many times as a kind of ritornello, the Mazurka-oberek soon displays a solo violin part quite as virtuosic as anything in the concerto while Glazunov constructs a succession of attractive tunes with a distinct Polish character. The frosty delicacy of the scoring and the range of sonorities Glazunov draws from the violin in harmonics, trills and sonorous double- and triple-stopping show he had lost none of his sure compositional touch. This delightful piece, which works up to a scintillating conclusion, deserves to be better known.

While Glazunov was a famous compositional all-rounder, the Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck is renowned above all as a significant composer of Lieder. His lifetime’s output of songs with piano, and his major orchestral song-cycles such as Elegie and Lebendig begraben (‘Buried alive’), mark him out as someone who succeeded in saying something fresh and expressively rich while developing the song-writing traditions of Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. His operas, including Venus (1919–21), Penthesilea (1923–5) and Massimilla Doni (1934–6), are also admired even if rarely staged, and a work like Penthesilea shows that Schoeck was capable of radical and even violent utterance very different from his lyric song style. He wrote little for orchestra without voice, however: mainly occasional pieces, though they include a late concerto each for cello and for horn, each with string orchestra accompaniment.

Schoeck’s much earlier Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat major, Op 21, for violin and full orchestra, is his most substantial concert work. It is also the most impressive memorial of his infatuation with the Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer (1888–1956), whom Schoeck first encountered in Leipzig in 1907 while still a pupil of Max Reger, and then pursued—with persistence but, so far as we can tell, only Platonic success—over five years and in different European cities. The reserved and elusive Geyer was already the muse of Béla Bartók (who wrote his first violin concerto for her), and in 1908–9 Schoeck dedicated to her a sonata for violin and piano (which she did not perform). He was desolated when Geyer became engaged to a Viennese lawyer, but contrived to spend a happy week with her in her native Budapest in 1910, after which he began composing the violin concerto in her honour. Again, Geyer was not destined to give the premiere, although she did perform and even record the work in later life.

The first movement, drafted by the end of 1910, received a play-through in Vevey in May 1911, and the whole concerto was first heard—with piano accompaniment—in Berlin in February 1912 with Schoeck at the keyboard and the Dutch violinist Willem de Boer, the leader of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, as soloist. De Boer was also the solist in the orchestral premiere, given less than a month later in Bern, Switzerland, with the Bern Symphony Orchestra under Schoeck’s friend, the composer and conductor Fritz Brun, and in the first Zurich performance the following week under Volkmar Andreae.

At this stage in his career Schoeck was relatively inexperienced in creating large-scale abstract forms; the work gave him considerable trouble and he remained dissatisfied with it, partly hiding that dissatisfaction under a subtitle—‘quasi una fantasia’—that may seek to deflect criticism for an apparent lack of overall coherence. Nevertheless, the lyric passion and attractiveness of the work’s ideas earn it a distinguished place among the violin concertos of the immediate pre-World War I period. Although Schoeck’s models were clearly the great Romantic concertos of the later nineteenth century (Brahms, Bruch and perhaps Dvorák; the warm chromatic harmony makes it highly likely that he also studied the fine concerto by his erstwhile teacher Max Reger), he was able to infuse his ideas with an individual flavour. Interestingly, the work contains no cadenza; it seems as if Schoeck was more concerned to create an impression of seamless, if often rhapsodic, activity in which the violinist is kept fully occupied almost from first bar to last.

The concerto starts abruptly, in medias res, with bell-like horns and busy, chattering violin figuration that Schoeck apparently associated with swallows fluttering in the sunshine around a high roof (perhaps a reminiscence of his living quarters in the top floor flat of a chalet on the edge of Zurich, high above the city panorama). Almost at once, however, the soloist gives out not one but two long-breathed and intensely lyrical themes which will constitute the main focus of the movement. A more vigorous third theme, with a hint of fanfare, completes the melodic roster and the ‘swallows’ flight’ figuration leads into the development, which is freely associative rather than logically worked out, the soloist remaining the centre of attention and taking up first one idea, then another, and always varying them. A free recapitulation quickens towards the coda, where the momentum dissipates and the music seems to sink into a rapt nostalgic dream.

The slow movement, Grave, non troppo lento, begins with sinister drum beats and a hollow, oppressed-sounding woodwind theme. The violin responds to this opening in more lyrical and hopeful vein, continuing to develop ideas first heard in the previous movement. Despite the beauty and mounting passion of the violin writing, with an eloquently ‘speaking’ theme in the movement’s central section, it does not entirely succeed in dispelling the orchestral gloom. Again there are extended stretches of romantic reverie. The mood then brightens with the unexpected appearance of a pastoral woodwind idea that will turn out to be the main theme of the finale.

The finale opens Allegro con spirito with the pastoral theme now in the guise of a vivacious dance, and it seems as if Schoeck’s intention is to write a lively rondo-type finale; but, before long, thematic reminiscences and romantic nostalgia are again the order of the day and the music sinks increasingly into bittersweet meditation that includes some of the most beautiful pages in the entire concerto. The dance music comes and goes, but so does the soulful reverie: it seems as if the work is going to fade out in a sunset glow, when at the very last minute Schoeck slips in a new, pawky, folk-like theme which blows away the cobwebs with a welcome touch of ironic humour.

Calum MacDonald © 2013


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