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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Gidon Kremer / Sibelius & Schumann ‎– Violin Concertos

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This week’s installment of Vinyl’s Revenge is a mid-1980’s coupling of violin concertos featuring Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti.

If we were to create a pie chart of all the concerti for solo instrument and orchestra, I’d hazard to guess at least 2/3 of the pie would be occupied by concertos for either keyboard or violin. The violin concerto repertoire is huge, mostly composed of baroque and classical-era works – Vivaldi contributed probably 500 – but the workhorses among violin concertos are late Romantic works – Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mendelssohn (in E-minor) and Sibelius are prominent among those, and are most often used in the “final event” of so many competitions.

Originally composed in 1904 and extensively revised the following year, the Sibelius violin concerto was premiered in January 1905 in Berlin under the baton of Richard Strauss, no less. It is the only concerto that Sibelius wrote, though he composed several other smaller-scale pieces for solo instrument and orchestra. One noteworthy feature of the work is the way in which an extended cadenza for the soloist takes on the role of the development section in the sonata form first movement.

The initial version was noticeably more demanding but still the revised version requires a high level of technical facility on the part of the soloist; some of the most striking changes, particularly in the first movement, are in orchestration, with some rhythms played twice as slow. The original is somewhat longer than the revised, including themes that did not survive the revision. Certain parts, like the very beginning, most of the third movement, and parts of the second, have not changed at all. The cadenza in the first movement is exactly the same.

In a large corpus such as that for violin and orchestra, we are bound to find some “curiosities”. Without wanting to be unkind to Robert Schumann’s ability as a composer, we’d have to attribute that moniker to his Violin Concerto in D minor, one of his last significant compositions, and one that remained unknown to all but a very small circle for more than 80 years after it was written.

Schumann wrote it in the Fall of 1853 for violinist Joseph Joachim. He had just previously completed another work for Joachim, the Fantasie, op. 131. Though Joachim performed Schumann’s Fantasie, he never performed the Violin Concerto. After playing it through with the Hannover Court Orchestra for Schumann in October 1853, Joachim retained the manuscript for the rest of his life. After Schumann’s attempted suicide the following February and ended up in a mental facility hereafter, Joachim evidently suspected the Concerto was a product of Schumann’s madness and thought of the music as morbid.

Now, there are a few disparate facts that add to this “morbid” idea; in a supplement to the Schumann Complete Edition, Johannes Brahms makes reference to a theme that would have been dictated to Schumann by the spirits of Mendelssohn and Schubert, no longer recognizing that it was a melody he had used in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto. Much later, in 1933, during a spiritualist séance in London attended by Joachim's two grand-nieces (the sister violinists Jelly d'Arányi and Adila Fachiri) a spirit-voice identifying himself as Robert Schumann requested Miss d'Aranyi to recover an unpublished work of his (of which she claimed to have no knowledge) and to perform it. In a second message, this time from the spirit of Joachim, they were directed to the Prussian State Library where the manuscript had been deposited for safe keeping.

Clearly less travelled than other Romantic concerti, I thought the work stands well in this particular pairing, and Kremer’s clean lines and impeccable technique add to the experience.

Happy listening

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto In D Minor, A 23

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto In D Minor, op. 47

Gidon Kremer, violin
Philharmonia Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, conducting

Angel Records ‎– DS-37957
Format: Vinyl (ADD), LP
Released: 1983
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