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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]
Daniel Hope (solo violin)
Octet: Lucy Gould, Sophie Besançon and Christian Eisenberger (violins); Pascal Siffert 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

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 his 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.
Tim Perry


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