Nikolai LOPATNIKOFF (1903-1976)
Concerto for Violin, Op. 26 (1941) [22:13]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
National Orchestral Association/Leon Barzin
Symphony No. 3, Op. 35 (1953-54) [30:16]
National Orchestral Association/John Barnett
rec. 12 March 1945; 26 January 1960. ADD
PIERIAN PIR 0023 [52:29]
Lopatnikoff had earned a certain cachet by the early 1930s, having his First Symphony conducted by Bruno Walter, no less, and being played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The Estonian-born composer was then forced to move to London where he lived for about seven years, before emigrating to America. There he pursued an academic, teaching career in tandem with his compositional life.
The 1941 Violin Concerto was premiered by Richard Burgin with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. Burgin was the esteemed concertmaster of the orchestra and was a laudable exponent – does this premiere exist somewhere? In Pierian’s disc the soloist is the redoubtable and long-lived Joseph Fuchs with the National Orchestral Association directed by the intrepid Leon Barzin, a broadcast survival that was made in 1945.
The Concerto is a bold, fulsome offering in three movements and relatively compact at twenty-two minutes. It opens in busy fashion, as if urgently keen to get on with things, and is full of terse, invigorating rhythmic thrust. It’s interesting to consider the influences. Lopatnikoff was living in London when Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto received its British premiere, courtesy of Robert Soetens – who’d also given the world premiere (the broadcast recording of the Soetens/Wood UK premiere has now been issued by the BBC Music Magazine). He was in America when the Walton (end of 1939) and Barber (official premiere in February 1941 but performed earlier) were premiered and that’s the kind of thing to expect, with Prokofiev as the stronger contender. There’s a fine cadenza at the end of the first movement of the Lopatnikoff, and especially good is the series of very lyric-romantic vaults that the violin launches in the expressive slow movement. Here Fuchs’ vibrato widens noticeably. The finale is snappy, lively with incipient tension. A big military march threatens but there is also, interestingly, some Tchaikovskian wind figuration. The final furlong is marked by scampering but ultimately unsatisfying drama.
The recording clearly needed some remedial work but it’s still pretty harsh and razory, though listenable certainly. Fuch’s tonal qualities don’t emerge optimally but we can make out enough to admire his thrusting virtuoso playing.
The Third Symphony was composed over a decade later. It’s couched in the ‘School of Grit’ – busy, taut, with scattered and uneasy lyric moments surrounded by Sturm und Drang. The second movement continues the brittle bustle of the first but much lighter and less insistent in tone – there’s a military type bugle call along the way – and the slow movement is austere and edgily lyrical. A sense of glowering brusqueness haunts the finale with a ghost march embedded along the way. It’s a highly competent work – single minded, powerful, not especially distinctive.
John Barnett is the conductor and the 1960 sound is naturally a considerable improvement on the sonics for the concerto. This disc consists of fruitful pickings for those who admire the mid-century output of the Estonian émigré.
Jonathan Woolf
Fruitful pickings ... see Full Review