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Karoly GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor Op.28 (1875-78) [31.50]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Double Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello in A minor Op.102 (1887) [32.57]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Ramon Jaffé (cello)
Witold Lutosławski Philharmonic, Wroclaw/Daniel Raiskin
Recorded in Wroclaw Philharmonic Hall, December 2003 (Goldmark) and Brahms 2004 (Brahms)

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A novel coupling. Goldmark’s Concerto and Brahms’ Double Concerto were written a decade or so apart so they make reasonable geographic and contemporary disc mates. And it’s welcome – and unusual – to find a violinist who shares record room in this way after contributing his own solo effort. But Schmid is an unusually rounded musician, both in the range of his interests and in this willingness to contribute to the non-soloistic repertoire generally – he’s a noted chamber player for instance.

When he played the Goldmark in Vienna he apparently caused something of a stir. Part of the reason would be a prodigal’s return with an unusual concerto, though doubtless it reflected admirably on his own eloquence as a musician. Though reference was apparently made to Kreisler in the Viennese papers a better exponent to hold up would be Milstein whose concerto this "was" for some time insofar as it was anyone’s. More recently we have seen a revival of interest in its elegant charms – Perlman, Bell and Chang have all recorded it and gone are the days of nicely cut single-sided 78 recordings of just the second movement Andante. Milstein took a quicker and more lissom view of the first movement than Schmid but there’s little doubting the sense of watchful introversion with which he enters with his first withdrawn statement. The second subject is very sweetly spun and with considerable daring when it comes to matters of dynamics. The orchestral lower strings can lack some heft but the subsequent fugal passage is lightly etched and with some bluff humour as well. Schmid’s Andante has few concessions for the antimacassar brigade; it’s quite brisk and not at all over-emoted and full of effective lightness of articulation. The finale is nicely sprung, Schmid’s tone taking on a generous but never cloying sweetness, though the recording isn’t flattering to the orchestra where one finds rather cloudy voicings and a certain lack of definition.

The Brahms receives an intimate and sensitive traversal but which exposes weaknesses in orchestral ensemble and the recording. Horn and viola choirs can muddy and on occasion overbalance the soloists and for all their commitment the orchestra sounds undernourished. Elsewhere, especially in the third movement, we have the reverse problems; the orchestral tuttis are too far recessed. Ramon Jaffé dovetails well with Schmid but the cellist’s tone has a bit of a rasp to it and can be buzzily nasal – this allied to the fact that he has something of a halo around the instrument in the recorded sound. The opening movement is rather dogged, the slow one relatively quick but not breathless, the finale subject to some intonational buckles and a gemutlisch end that ultimately lacks tensile strength.

The question of recommendations is rendered problematic by the coupling. The Brahms needn’t detain one for long; the Goldmark comes into competition with Bell (coupled with Sibelius – Sony) and an all Goldmark disc with Sarah Chang (EMI), not to mention the 1957 Milstein/Blech on Testament and the fabulous Perlman on EMI. My choices would be the latter two but Bell’s is a fine contribution to the discography and Chang’s is not so far behind.

Jonathan Woolf

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