image does the name "Vieuxtemps" conjure in your mind?
With a bit of a question mark hovering over the "x",
my mental mischief-maker comes up with "vieux-temps dansant"
- "old-time dancing"! No doubt someone will correct
my pidgin French, but for the simple purposes of the "Loony
Toons" imagery thatís near enough for me. Actually, as a
mental association it does have its serious side for, in one particular
sense, it happens to be quite apposite.
Andersonís booklet note is well up to his usual informative standard,
though how he keeps it up is a source of wonderment: over the
years, he must have worn his fingers to the bone for Naxos. Maybe
thatís why in this note his normally good grammar looks a bit
frayed around the edges, so letís hope that itís only a temporary
aberration. Anyway, try this sentence for size, "[He] was
acclaimed by Schumann, who compared the boy to Paganini, whom
he met in London in 1834." Just who was it that met Paganini
in London? As the answerís not entirely obvious even to me, Iíd
advise those for whom English is not their native tongue to tread
that little aside, and to get to the point, Keith suggests that
"The Belgian composer Henry Vieuxtemps was known in his lifetime
as one of the foremost exponents of the violin in Europe, and
much of his music demonstrates his own considerable abilities
as a virtuoso performer, combining superb technical command with
deeper musical understanding." Regarding those compositions,
Keith comments, "In particular, he added a more classical
dimension to violin repertoire". Considering the age in which
Vieuxtemps lived and worked, "restored" would probably
be nearer the mark than "added", but no matter: the
important point is that Vieuxtemps apparently lived up to his
name! (Try not to split your sides, folks, this is the serious
you might ask - and assuming you donít already know - what does
Vieuxtempsís music sound like? Well, bearing in mind the composerís
milieu and Keithís admonition, you might expect it to be a fair
bit to the right of centre. To my ears, thatís exactly how it
is: Vieuxtemps was "behind the times". So, no doubt,
the avant-garde of his generation looked down their noses
at him - I canít imagine that deplorable attitude being solely
the prerogative of the latter half of the twentieth century. Similarly,
Iíll bet that even back then there were also oodles of much less
vociferous folks who sighed gratefully for "new" music
that didnít curl up their toes.
was a "neo-classicist". In common with "neos"
down the ages he took the tried and trusted formulae, and lightly
spiced them with modernism in moderation. As a soloist of some
standing, he was well up with the "cutting edge" of
the time: Beethovenís ground-breaking Violin Concerto was
in his repertoire, and he played Mendelssohnís, which was then
still in the "ultra modern" class. You can certainly
feel something of these, and especially the latter, in the concertos
on this disc. Moreover, the 15-minute span of the first movement
of the Fifth Concerto also breathes something of the grandeur
and breadth of Brahms, except that Brahms hadnít yet written any
of the symphonic music from which that feeling derives! Although
as a performer he had been compared to Paganini, you will find
little or nothing of the latterís flashy showmanship in Vieuxtempsís
own concertos. In combining the moderation of the classicists
of his past with the Romantic warmth of his present, he indulges
in modest inventiveness but steers well clear of any of those
pesky, overheated histrionics. In fact, you could happily curl
up with a nice, warm mug of cocoa and a Vieuxtemps concerto, and
afterwards - but only afterwards - sleep all the better for it.
Fifth Concerto kicks off with a full-length, purely orchestral
exposition that provides ample opportunity to savour the composerís
robustly lyrical style, the quality of the orchestral playing,
and the overall recorded sound - at least in respect of the Fifth
and Sixth Concertos. Although it wonít send a prestigious
awardís panel of judges into transports of ecstasy, the recording
sounds just fine, nicely rounded in a sympathetic acoustic which
lends warmth without smothering the details in over-reverberant
are those who like to gripe about "thin" violin sound,
and who would, Iím sure, find grist for their mills here. I donít
find this a problem, certainly not when the Slovak RSO violins
play as sensitively as they do here. Of course, the violins are
simply the "sharp end" of a "string spectrum",
so no doubt thereís another class of gripers who will crawl out
of the woodwork to grumble about the musicís murky bottom. Yet,
ripe as that is, I donít find any lack of clarity about it. Instead
I find myself charmed to hear the basses making their presence
felt with such rotund firmness - and no jokes about "firm,
round bottoms", if you please.
often Mendelssohnian woodwind are equally well represented by
the Slovak players, characterfully caressing their continual contributions
whilst the horns add a mellow glow and, near the beginning of
the Fifth, with evident relish seize their opportunity when Vieuxtemps
lobs them "over the top". Eastern European "wobble"
in this department is conspicuous by its virtual absence: youíll
notice any only if youíre looking for trouble, which is hardly
what you should be doing if youíre armed with just a mug of warm
cocoa. The brass department takes rather a back seat, although
this is largely dictated by the musicís style. Trumpets are occasionally
used to colour softer music, but otherwise the brass merely lend
amplitude to tuttis - a modest but valuable contribution that
happily they donít spoil by milking their chances.
waxing lyrical about all the supporting cast, I am in danger of
forgetting the star of the show! We are told that Misha Keylin,
who is now in his early thirties, has performed in "over
forty countries spanning five continents", so heís been around
a bit. The reason I mention this is that, I suppose traditionally,
we tend to associate Naxos with the unearthing of unknown (and
therefore cheap) talent. As David Denton once declared, when asked
what Naxos did when one of these discoveries made a name for himself
on Naxos and succumbed to the inevitable carrot dangled by some
major company, "We just go and find somebody else."
The times they are a-changing, basically because the carrots are
getting smaller, fewer, and farther between. Klaus Heymann is
starting to look less an astute businessman, and more a prophet!
set well in front of the orchestra but thankfully by much less
than the proverbial mile, proves an admirable advocate, apparently
resisting any temptation to gild the Vieuxtemps lily. His tone,
slender but mellifluous, fits the frequent outbreaks of tenderness
like a glove, while his technique lacks nothing in agility and
flexibility. At first hearing I seemed to sense the occasional
tendency to scrappy attack, but oddly enough the second time around
I was actually much less conscious of this. I donít know
why, but I wasnít! However, what I was more aware of the
second time around was the flexibility of Keylinís playing, for
whatever Vieuxtempsís neo-classical pretensions he is nevertheless
first and foremost a moderate Romantic in the mould of Mendelssohn,
Chopin and company. Thus Keylin seems to have more bends to negotiate
than a Monte Carlo Grand Prix driver, and to his credit he negotiates
the lot with assurance, ease, and high entertainment value.
of ceremonies Andrew Mogrelia, another stalwart of the Naxos stable,
aptly holds the reins connecting orchestra and soloist and assures
a pleasing unanimity - no mean feat, given the musicís predisposition
to twists and turns. I presume we have him to thank for following,
or at least giving the distinct impression of following, Beechamís
advice to "never look at the brass - it only encourages them".
By the same token, he seems to have looked long and hard at the
rest of the orchestra!
Seventh Concerto, which has an exceptionally spirited,
tarantella-like finale that militates a little against "cocoa-time"
listening, finds the same soloist accompanied by a different orchestra
and conductor, and recorded in a different location. Iíve listed
them as described on the CDís u-card and booklet front, though
be warned that within the package lurks a less consistent tale.
Only the Slovak RSO and Mogrelia are afforded "profiles"
in the booklet: thereís no mention of the Arnhem Philharmonic
and Takuo Yuasa. This is compounded by the CD label, which credits
only Mogrelia and - the Razumovsky Sinfonia! Now, this
orchestra is a "medium-sized" scratch band made up of
the cream of the main Slovak orchestras, lighter in numbers and
lighter in tone, but is it playing on this CD?
first acquaintance, the general performance and recording of the
Seventh Concerto sound much the same as those of the Fifth
and Sixth. Pay closer attention, and you hear a slightly
different instrumental layout, a marginally mellower orchestral
sound, and a more rounded balance of woodwind timbres. I would
plump for the reference to the Razumovsky Sinfonia as an aberration,
and the other two groups present and correct as per the listing
above - but donít quote me on that. The one thing we can be sure
of is that the soloist is the same. Maybe Naxos would like to
confirm the orchestral participants for us?
the final analysis, exactly which orchestra is playing what piece
doesnít matter, other than giving credit where itís actually due.
The party of the seventh part plays its part as enchantingly as
the party of the fifth and sixth parts, those minor differences
apart. Vieuxtemps may not have written the greatest of violin
concertos, but then, if the term is to retain any semblance of
meaning that accolade must necessarily fall to only a privileged
few. What he does bequeath to us is a fine body of skilfully crafted,
vigorous, melodious and involving music - and music plenty good
enough to earn such patently sympathetic advocacy, from both performers
and sound engineers, as it receives here. Go on, give it a whirl
- after all, it wonít cost you much more than the price of a packet