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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto Op. 47 (1903 rev. 1905) [30:37]
En Saga, Op.9 (1892/1902) [20:08]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Coriolan Overture Op.62 (1807) [9:00]
Georg Kulenkampff (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Berlin 7 February 1942; 27 June 1943 (Coriolan)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 01109 [59:49]


7 February 1942 witnessed a magnetic performance of the Sibelius Concerto from the leading German violinist still resident in the country, Georg Kulenkampff, and its reigning conductor and, focus of Melodiya’s reissue programme, Wilhelm Furtwängler. The sense of spontaneity and tensile onrush is palpable and at a complete remove from the commercial recording made in the same city under a year later by the composer’s compatriot Anja Ignatius with the Städtisches Orkester Berlin under Armas Järnefelt (Symposium 1310 – see review).

Kulenkampff was better known as a classicist but in fact his Northern German temperament was highly attuned to the Slavic and Russian repertoires. A splendidly preserved performance of the Glazunov concerto, for example, can attest to these broad ranging interests. Kulenkampff’s Sibelius is garnished with plentiful portamenti, crystalline upper string playing, burning commitment and energy. His playing in the slow movement is certainly his most overtly and nakedly expressive romantic playing on record. Furtwängler proves a dark, dramatic Sibelian and provides a landscape of tremendous power for his soloist. In the finale the trombone rasps are truly intense and for those who find performances of this concerto sometimes anticlimactic be assured that this one ends in anything but disappointment. It blazes away until the end. It’s been reissued a few times of course; DG in their wartime series and Music & Arts CD 799 amongst the most prominent labels.

En Saga comes from the same concert. It too receives a trenchant, simmering and brooding reading, one that shows again the conductor’s feel for the intense and forward moving in this repertoire. Rubati are malleable but convincing and the control and relaxation of tension is marvellously vivid. Another performance exists from Stockholm in September 1950 (it’s on the Music & Arts disc) but this wartime performance, despite the less-than-optimum sound, is significantly more penetrating and dramatic.

To round off the disc there’s the equally magnificent 1943 Coriolan in the conductor’s finest surviving performance – better than the two Vienna performances of 1947 and 1951. A demerit is the Magnetophon tape damage – the familiar mini pneumatic drill noise in quieter passages. Otherwise a complete success.

Adherents of the concerto should have this Kulenkampff, along with the Ignatius, Wicks, Neveu and Heifetz on their Historic Performances shelf. Others should get it anyway in whichever incarnation they may find it.

Jonathan Woolf



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