Ilya Kaler’s new recording of the Brahms concerto on Naxos is
eminently recommendable. When reviewing his recent recording
of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto (see
review) I remarked that Kaler’s performance was one
“of elegance as well as brilliance” that “wears it war-horse status
lightly, impressing itself upon the listener by virtue of its
freshness and natural feeling”. Those comments are equally applicable
to this recording.
Kaler’s conception of Brahms’ score is one that
rejoices in its beauties. Ably supported by the warm sounds
exhaled by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kaler’s violin
sings with a golden tone and sweetly inflected phrasing. He
takes his time over the first movement, but maintains his rhythmic
control and sense of the music’s overall architecture. In this
his performance succeeds where, as Jonathan
out, Julia Fischer’s similarly conceived account fails. Kaler
also lingers lovingly over the gorgeous slow movement – taking
over 10 minutes. His pacing is more conventional in the Hungarian
finale, which smiles more than it swaggers here.
The coupling of Brahms and Schumann is astute.
Firstly it makes programmatic sense. Both concertos share the
tonality of D – Brahms in the glowing major, Schumann in the
dramatic minor. Both were written for Joachim, and the bond
between Schumann and Brahms themselves is as well known as it
Secondly, the coupling is an attractive addition
to the Naxos catalogue. It complements an earlier disc (Naxos
8.550938), on which Kaler joins cellist Maria Kliegel in Brahms’
double concerto, offered as a coupling for Kliegel’s performance
of the Schumann cello concerto. Buy these two discs, and you
have the complete Schumann and Brahms string concertos at one
The coupling of the Schumann and Brahms concertos
is also fairly unusual in the broader catalogue. While recordings
of the Brahms proliferate, there are few recordings of the Schumann
concerto and when they do appear they tend to be lumped together
with more Schumann. Only Joshua Bell, to my knowledge, has
coupled these two concertos on disc before. That disc now forms
half of a mid-price twofer in the price bracket above this release
(Decca – The Joshua Bell Edition – 4756703). Bell's recording
is also available at bargain basement price on Australian
sundered from its Brahms coupling.
Schumann wrote his violin concerto very quickly
in the autumn of 1853. Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann had
reservations about the piece. In happier times Schumann would
probably have revised the piece, but the rapid decline in his
mental health prevented this and the score languished unplayed
and unknown until the 1930s. It is an attractive piece, constructed
along classical lines, and deserves more attention and respect
than it is usually accorded. The first movement has a symphonic
seriousness and integrity, contrasting the wild, surging argument
of its first subject with a gentle, sensitive second subject.
The central movement is quietly beautiful. The finale, in the
form of a polonaise and with prominent wind writing, brings
the concerto dancing to a close.
Kaler's performance is successful and offers collectors
a distinct choice. Bell's recording has a straight forward
brilliance and Kremer's EMI recording with Muti, like Menuhin's
electric premiere recording
of the uncut score, emphasises the drama of the work. Kaler
takes a different view. Again favouring spacious tempi – his
first movement at 14:28 takes a minute longer than Bell's and
two minutes longer than Menuhin's – he presents the concerto
very much as the classical conception of a poetic soul. Where
the other interpreters listed above play for Florestan, Kaler
takes Eusebius' part.
The balance favours the violin in both concertos,
but there is air enough around the soloist, and the warm Lighthouse
Concert Hall acoustic gives the orchestral sound a lovely glow.
Listening through earphones can be disconcerting in the Schumann
where either Kaler's or the conductor’s breathing is quite prominent.
I did not notice this so much when listening through speakers.
Keith Anderson's liner-notes live up to his usual
high standard, but gloss over the circumstances of the Schumann
concerto's rediscovery by Joachim's great-niece and avoid entirely
discussion of the political wrangling over the concerto's premiere
wonderful disc from Ilya Kaler and a bargain of the month.
of Ilya Kaler’s other Naxos recordings on MusicWeb:
Sonatas and Partitas