Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op.64 (Original 1844 version) [25:57]
Octet for strings in E flat major, Op.20 (Critically revised edition 1832) [30:54]
Three Lieder (arr. Daniel Hope) Hexenlied [2:12], Suleika [2:45], Auf Flügen des Gesanges [2:25]
Octet: Lucy Gould, Sophie Besançon and Christian Eisenberger (violins); Pascal
and Stewart Eaton (violas); William Conway and Kate Gould (cellos)
Sebastian Knauer (piano) (lieder)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Thomas Hengelbrock (concerto).
rec. Stefaniensaal (concerto) and Kammermusiksaal (octet, lieder), Grazer Congress,
Graz, June 2007. DDD DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
Daniel Hope is nobody's fool. He knows that every violinist
under the sun has recorded the Mendelssohn violin concerto. He
knows that every collector will have a legion of recordings in
or her collection, from the classic accounts like those of Heifetz, Oistrakh and Grumiaux to
those by more modern masters like Perlman, Chung, Mullova and
Lin. His contemporaries Capuçon and Znaider have
recorded the piece, as have a number of the next generation
of violinists: Hilary Hahn, Janine
Jansen and Nicola Benedetti all have recordings under their
belts. Julia Fischer has not recorded it yet, but it can only
be a matter of time.
Hope has a close association with this concerto. As he explains
in the booklet notes to this release, it was the first concerto
he heard live, the first he learned, the one with which he
made his debut and the one which almost got him kicked
out of the Menuhin School. Later, he toured Germany playing
the concerto under the baton of Yehudi Menuhin himself, for
whom the concerto had been something of a signature work. The
Mendelssohn was therefore a natural choice for Hope’s first
album with his new label, Deutsche Grammophon.
However, this is not just another recording of the Mendelssohn violin
concerto. Hope cannily distinguishes his disc from the would-be
competition by presenting the world premiere recording of Mendelssohn’s
original score. The manuscript, only recently discovered,
predates by a year the revisions – including suggestions on
the violin part from the work’s dedicatee and first soloist,
Ferdinand David – that Mendelssohn made prior to the score’s
publication and first performance.
The differences between the original and published scores are, for
the most part, quite subtle and do not leap out in every bar. As
a general comment, the original score stays much more within
the violin's low to middle range. You really notice this at
the climactic moments in the first movement, for example, where
we expect the violin to soar upwards but hear it instead plunging
down. The revised score is more dramatic and more spectacular
and, after hearing Hope’s recording through a few times, I
am convinced that Mendelssohn's revisions improve the piece.
Hope disagrees, and with his a serious and dramatic reading of the
first movement he seems determined to prove his point. His
playing is perhaps overly nuanced, with hairpin crescendos
and diminuendos and pronounced bowings, but his colouring of
the violin line carries conviction and leads the ear, even
if it is a little unsmiling in the first movement. There are
similarities to Menuhin's classic account with Kurtz, including
a similarly windswept vulnerability at the opening of the first
movement and a sweetness of tone in the central andante. The
COE provides committed support.
Hope is no stranger to chamber music: when not playing solo gigs,
he is the violinist of the soon-to-be-disbanded Beaux
Arts Trio. He and his colleagues from the COE generate tremendous
energy in the octet, though they manage some tenderness in
the andante. The recording is immediate and a little dry,
which helps Mendelssohn's trade mark rapid violin figures to
emerge cleanly. This is an impressive performance, that leaves
the listener in no doubt of the virtuosity of the ensemble
and the lead violinist in particular. Andante aside, though,
I found myself missing the smiling, singing quality of this
work that Ensemble Explorations, for example, bring out so
beautifully in their recording on Harmonia Mundi.
Hope does manage to recapture that missing element in his renditions
of the three songs that close the disc. He arrangements for
violin are faithful to the original settings for voice and
he and pianist Sebastian Knauer play them with an artless beauty.
In sum, this is a useful addition to the Mendelssohn discography. The
playing is consistently fine and the pairing of the concerto
with the octet – with a few songs thrown in for good measure – makes
for enjoyable listening. It is worth hearing this original
version of the concerto, if only for interest’s sake.
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