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Joseph JOACHIM (1831-1907)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor Op. 11 In the Hungarian Style (1860) [47:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77 (1879) [43:20]
Rachel Barton (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Carlos Kalmar
rec. 2-3 July 2002, Orchestra Hall, Chicago. DDD
CEDILLE CDR 90000 068 [47:15 + 43:20]

This is not the first time that the Joachim concerto has been recorded. I recall Aaron Rosand recording it for Vox when it was released on LP during the 1970s and this reappeared on a CD reissue during the early 1990s. In any event this is the first time the two concertos have been coupled together. Each concerto is allocated its own disc but the price is set at 2-for-1.

For the Brahms concerto, you can programme your player to choose the cadenza by either Rachel Barton [6:18] modestly tracked at the end of the concerto or Joachim [5:25]. Ms Barton alternates the familiar Joachim cadenza with her own together with those by Maud Powell, Kreisler and Ysaye. It is a pity that Cedille were not able to add these to the disc as well.

The recording quality and playing of this great orchestra is rapturously attractive. The affluent sonic qualities of Chicago Symphony Hall are attested to time and again. Listen for example to the velvety resonance of the Hall at the end of both the finale and the long, almost thirty minute, first movement of the Joachim.

The first thing that strikes you about the Joachim is that, like the Brahms, the Joachim has a longish orchestral introduction before the soloist enters. The skirling attack demanded of the soloists is also common to both works as is the zigeuner liveliness of the writing.

The lives of Brahms and Joachim are a close weave. They first met in 1853 when Joachim was a young celebrity and Brahms was pretty much unknown. They became close friends, corresponded extensively and shared rooms in Göttingen. Brahms thought highly of Joachim's music. It was Joachim who premiered the Brahms work in Leipzig on New Year's Day 1879. Joachim helped correct and shape the concerto during 1878 until it emerged in the form we know today.

Joachim wrote his Second Violin Concerto between 1854 and 1860 and it premiered in Hanover. While it was given exalted praise during Joachim's lifetime it has rather fallen into the background. It now emerges as a far from vacuous display piece. Indeed its mien is seriously lyrical, related more to the Beethoven concerto than to things like the Zigeunerweisen of Sarasate. Of course it has meed of gypsy paprika as in 7:30 of the second movement and in the white-hot flight of the start of the finale where fire brands and sparks fly in all directions. At 2:47 in that movement one can hear the same bloodline that gave birth to Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Ms Barton is extremely impressive and conjures up a raptly peaceful spell in the first movement.

Barton and Kalmar cleave to the broad approach in the Brahms Concerto. As a reading it does not lack fire but when the sunny, contented peaceful moods come, as in the slow movement, Barton has the listener basking in the unhurried warmth of the writing. In the finale the sparks fly and the orchestral brass shine delivering a real bark in the closing measures.

Ms Barton's affinity with both works can be traced back via her teacher Werner Scholz who was a pupil of Gustav Havemann who, in turn, was taught by Joachim. In addition she tells us that in preparing her performance of the Brahms she studied Joachim's essay on the work in his Violinschule.

Ms Barton plays the 'ex-Soldat' Guarneri del Gesu, Cremona, 1742. The reference is to Marie Soldat (1863-1955) an intimate within Brahms' 'inner-circle'. Soldat is bound up in the history of the Brahms concerto. She studied it with both Joachim and Brahms. She introduced it to many European cities notably to Vienna in 1885 with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Phil. Joachim was her conductor when she gave what was only the second performance of the work in Berlin. Ms Barton's sound using this instrument is the antithesis of that produced by say Kyung-Wha Chung or Viktoria Mullova. It is sleeker, fatter, more ripe than slender - very agreeable and memorable.

Clearly this was no mere stop-gap project. The expense must have been considerable and was made possible by a generous grant from the Sage Foundation.

Ms Barton contributes the very full notes and I have drawn on these for this review.

An utterly satisfying and imaginative coupling, agreeably priced. It introduces a novelty that is far from being ‘a piece of fluff’ and adds to it a weightily estimable performance of the Brahms.

Rob Barnett

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