All three of these works were given a ‘dry run’ on BBC Radio 3’s afternoon concert in the last year or so. There they were played by these artists. Where a BBC orchestra is retained these radio exposures seem to be part of the deal. The three concertos now showcased in Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series were, if I recall correctly, spread across a five-day slot.
Eduard Lassen’s concerto, like Scharwenka’s, is full-scale and in three movements. Langgaard’s is diminutive—with a playing time equivalent to a concert overture. I had not previously heard of Lassen. He was born in Copenhagen but moved when his family uprooted to Brussels. There he entered the Conservatoire before his teen years. Prizes and praises came his way for his piano playing and composition. On tour in Germany and Italy he met Liszt and Spohr. He majored in opera but none of these achieved anything other than fleeting success. He was for many years conductor at Weimar. The CD’s notes, by former MWI reviewer Phillip Borg-Wheeler, tell us that he conducted the premiere of Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila and the first Weimar performance of Tristan und Isolde. Latterly, the young Richard Strauss was Lassen’s assistant at Weimar. This Violin Concerto was premiered in Dessau and there piloted by and dedicated to the Czech Karel Halíř who, in 1905, gave the premiere of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. It’s a succulent piece of, at times, showy late-romantic succulence. It seems to cast sighs in the direction of composers, the maturity of some of whom lay in the future: Dvořák, Delius, Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Mendelssohn. The most telling movement—and the one that etches a path in the memory—is the well-named Andante cantabile. It is the very personification of fragile beauty and stertorous dignity.
The Scharwenka concerto is the work of Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka not the slightly better known Xaver Scharwenka. Ludwig Philipp has been introduced to many of us by Sterling while Xaver has even more coverage courtesy of Hyperion, Chandos (piano concertos), Sterling (Symphony) and again Hyperion (chamber). Ludwig Philipp was born in a province of Prussia now known as Poznań, Poland. A move to Berlin furthered his cause and craft when his brother Xaver established the Scharwenka Conservatory in 1881 and a decade later saw Ludwig Philipp appointed director of the Scharwenka Conservatory in New York. Hyperion tell us that his cadre of students in Berlin included Otto Klemperer, Oskar Fried and José Vianna da Motta. Ludwig Philipp’s Violin Concerto is confident, forthright with the dolce Mendelssohnian cantabile element. This is heard to good effect in the sleepy ecstasy of the central movement. It is married with a bustling outgoing musculature. For me the results are, at this remove in time, more consistently memorable than those secured by Lassen. There are also two symphonies and an opera among much else.
Like Lassen, Rued Langgaard was born in Copenhagen. He came from a musical family and was precocious. Nielsen was his counterpoint teacher. Langgaard took badly against Nielsen’s dominance of the Danish musical scene. Langgaard’s success with his First Symphony included a Berlin Phil premiere. This ended up, in terms of public celebrity, being the peak of his career. While his productivity seems not to have suffered he never again, other than modestly, perturbed the surface of Danish musical life. His maturity was marked as organist of Ribe Cathedral and as the writer of sixteen symphonies, seven string quartets, four violin sonatas and an opera Antikrist. His works stirred interest on radio tapes in the late 1960s and his profile on records, especially during the CD age, remains far from negligible with the most recent disc featuring the Vienna Phil.
Langgaard’s one-movement Violin Concerto dates from the war years between the ninth (1942) and tenth (1945) symphonies. It has been recorded before, most recently, allowing for Linus’s disc, on Da Capo but before that as part of Kai Laursen’s Danacord edition. In fact, Laursen seems to have premiered the work for Danish Radio in 1968. It is a work not that far removed from the Lassen (which becomes stronger with every hearing) and the Scharwenka. It is however more of an affectionate florilegium, distinguished from the other two works by the prominently featured orchestral piano and the work’s brevity. In that sense and in its articulate and fulsome language it is related to works such as Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise and Caprice Andalou and Sibelius’s Humoresques. It works very well as do all the concertos here.
The recording is well matched with artistry that flickers, surges and pursues a legato path and that extends to all the musicians and technicians involved. These qualities illuminate generously romantic works that otherwise have sunk in Housman’s terms ‘far past the plunge of plummet’.