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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) [42:09]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO.23 (1853) [30:04]
Ilya Kaler (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
rec. Lighthouse Concert Hall, Poole, UK, 12-13 June 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570321 [72:13] 

 

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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 Woolf points 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 is complicated. 

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 fell swoop. 

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 Eloquence, but 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 performances. 

Another wonderful disc from Ilya Kaler and a bargain of the month.

Tim Perry

Reviews of Ilya Kaler’s other Naxos recordings on MusicWeb:
Bach Sonatas and Partitas
Brahms Sonatas
Tchaikovsky Concerto
Szymanowski Concertos
Ysaÿe Sonatas

 




 


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