Violin Concerto No.2 Op.131 (1892) [25:00]
Concerto Romantique Op.35 (1887) [23:27]
Scènes Poétiques for orchestra Op.46 (1879) [17:26]
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice/Kirk Trevor
rec. The House of Arts, Košice, June 2007 NAXOS 8.570554 [66:03]
the name Benjamin Godard to an old time fiddle player and
you’ll be met by two words – Jocelyn and Canzonetta.
The first is the Berceuse from Jocelyn and
a much leaned upon encore staple. And the second is the Canzonetta from
the Concerto Romantique, which was frequently extracted form
its accustomed place and used as a sweetmeat on disc and
the Concerto Romantique was quite widely performed in the
last years of the nineteenth century and the first couple
of decades of the twentieth. But it was never recorded in
full – only the Canzonetta. The Second Concerto is certainly
not unknown but it is so seldom performed that most people
must be making a first acquaintance with it in this performance.
The Scènes Poétiques are charming little orchestral pictures
written when Godard was thirty.
Concerto Romantique was written in 1887 eight years before
Godard’s early death. I’ve only ever heard two other performances.
Aaron Rosand taped it with the Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg
and Louis de Froment, now on Vox CDX 5102 in a two disc set.
But we’ll reluctantly have to discard Hugh Bean’s traversal
on a very obscure LP as it’s really only of academic interest
given its unavailability. Rosand and newcomer Chloë Hanslip
take rather different vies of the concerto. Rosand is the
more thrustful and dashing and is three minutes quicker.
He lays greater stress on the Allegro than the modifying
moderato in the first movement and tends toward a greater
range of expressive devices to keep things ticking over – note
his expressive finger position changes for instance and doesn’t
slow as much as Hanslip at those comma points in the first
movement. He’s also far more forwardly balanced, taking centre-stage,
whereas Hanslip is more naturally placed just in front of
the orchestra. Problematically however she has been accorded
a rather boomy and less than ideally focused recording, made
in The House of Arts, Košice.
Hanslip brings her own strong stamp to bear – she is good
at the oddly troubled passages in the opening, is warm and
certainly communicative in the slow movement, clearly enjoys
the rather salon confection that is the Canzonetta with its
viola counter-theme and fine sense of caprice. So too in
the finale where she treats the material on its own terms,
neither inflating it nor skating over it.
Second Concerto followed five years later. Though the earlier
work certainly lacks for little in post-Mendelssohnian virtuosity
the Second Concerto announces its credential from the start
with a pulsing scalar run for the soloist. Godard though
always manages to balance strong technical demands – he’d
been a violin prodigy – with ingratiating lyricism. And this
is certainly served up here – the tunes have a real charm
to them, and an enviable facility as well. If only Godard
hadn’t unleashed a far-too-early cadenza in the first movement – always
a sign of problems. Hanslip relishes the cantilena of the
slow movement, which she plays with adroit lyricism and well
distributed tonal resources – excellent dynamics toward the
end as well as tonal breadth.
Scènes Poétiques are picture postcard sweet, pastel shaded
and a touch generic. This is Light Music of course but it
does afford some excellent opportunities for the wind principals
of the Slovak State Philharmonic to shine, especially in
the second sketch, Dans les champs. The pick of the
four is the beautiful third – Sur la montagne - with
its effulgent tune, excellent and evocative horn writing
and stirring tune.
the rather unhelpful acoustic this is still an enjoyable
disc and it restores the two violin works in particular to
wider prominence than has perhaps been the case for a century
or so. Godard didn’t run to great profundity and some of
his orchestral accompanying figures tend to churn along without
doing anything much but he was a melodist of real charm and
these three works attest to a virtue too often overlooked.
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