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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto, Op. 77, in d minor (1878) [39:55]*
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 26, in g minor (1868) [25:15]
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra*/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Rec. 1994*/1992
BMG CLASSICS 82876 55268 2 [75.10]

 

Here are two magnificent concerti that have become staple constituents of any accomplished violinistís repertoire. There are so many great interpretations of these that on this occasion I am not going to elaborate with a comparative criticism. What I will say is that Zukerman makes this music his own, and he does so with the utmost musical conviction.

The CD is heralded by the glorious Brahms violin concerto in d minor. Brahms, let it be noted, lived his compositional career in the shadow of his great predecessor, Beethoven. Throughout his life, Brahms struggled (within himself) to live up to Beethoven's musical legacy and although it is tempting to place Brahmsís innovative and complex vocabulary in the late Romantic era exclusively, it is important to bear in mind his commitment to the classical tradition.

Zukermanís fiery and yet immaculately controlled interpretation holds up a perfect mirror to the composer disciplining his ardent romantic impulse. That Zukerman contains the lushness of Brahmsís concerto in an unapologetically resilient forward drive, and that he is constantly challenged by an equally affirmative orchestral force makes for an terribly exciting rendition. Neither soloist nor orchestra is intimidated by the other so that when they play in confrontation, the effect is truly powerful. At the other end, when both parties sing in mutual support, the tenderness is sublime.

Zukermanís opening of the Brahms concerto is exquisite in its poise and restraint. Indeed, the sensual climax is reserved for the lyrical second subject with plucked bass accompaniment: the emotion here is not derived from any overly romanticised gesture, but from an innocence and delicacy that exudes from the musical notes themselves. By refraining from overstating the drama, Zukerman and Mehta allow the music itself to emote.

Bruchís violin concerto in g minor was written ten years earlier, in 1868. This composition was a struggle for Bruch who, unlike Brahms, laboured over the concerto for several months and produced a number of versions before settling on his final draft. What Brahms and Bruch do share, however, is the help of Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who in each case advised on the technical front and premiered the concerti under each composerís baton.

As with his Brahms rendition, Zukerman never stoops to the gratuitous sickly-sentimental. His dignified and crisply clean execution of the cadenza-like opening sets the attitude of a performance that is uncompromisingly brilliant.

The boldness and freshness of Zukermanís touch will no doubt draw a welcome sigh of relief from those listeners who have had their fill of this much-popularised piece of music.

My only criticism of this CD is the booklet. It offers a sadly oversimplified and awkward note on the Romantic musical era and the compositions at hand. Instead of some information on the artists and the performances, we are presented with a cluster of dictionary-definition extracts.

Watch out for meaningless phrases such as "Öthe Classical balance between emotion and intellect gave way to emotional music in which poetic and metaphysical elements also played their part" and "Ö[the romantic period], that period of diversity and contradictions". As far as contradictions go, the only one I am aware of in this context is that, while the packaging lacks in style and relevance, the musical performances do not!

Aline Nassif


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