Pierre RODE (1774-1830)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G minor, Op. 5 [28:07]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in A major, Op. 63 [23:07]
Violin Concerto No. 6 in B flat, Op. 8 [22:37]
Friedemann Eichhorn (violin)
Jena Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicolás Pasquet
rec. 25-29 May 2009, Volkshaus, Jena, Germany
NAXOS 8.570767 [73:51]

Pierre Rode was born four years after Beethoven and died three years after Beethoven. He couldn’t have been more different, though; as a member of the ‘French school’ of violin playing he toured Europe with a series of successful concertos, each of them highly lyrical and virtuosic. They’re classical or early-romantic in a vague way: you could never say, “ah! This must be Rode!”, but on the other hand any fan of the period who listens to Rode’s music won’t turn it off. It is reliably pretty, well-made, and enjoyable, and the feature I really need to point out is that Rode wrote absolutely first-rate finales with rhythmic verve and even what sound like folk elements.

The Third Concerto (1798) is one of the most ambitious in his whole series, with a fifteen-minute long first movement; the other two movements are just thirteen combined. This gigantic allegro is rather too gigantic; it never feels big or important, but just keeps going. The rest of the piece is much more successful, especially the riveting finale, which if I didn’t know better I would tell you is some kind of polonaise or other east-European dance.

The Fourth Concerto (1798-1800, date uncertain) has all the advantages of the Third except for minor-key spice, and adds admirable brevity to the mix. It, too, is a pleasure for the ears. The Sixth Concerto (1800), apparently Rode’s most famous although all three of these recordings are premieres, presents his art at its most refined: lovely tunes, beautiful solo writing, a slightly beefier orchestral contribution - does the Fourth Concerto use trombones or are my ears deceiving me? - and another final rondo really worth getting excited about. It seems to me rare that Rode would produce merely average adagios and then superb concluding movements; so often obscure romantic concertos excel early and then disappoint in the finales.

Adding to the pleasure of the disc is the solo playing of Friedemann Eichhorn, as polished and pleasing as the music; he really has the feel of this era’s style. Even better, he’s written his own highly accomplished cadenzas for each concerto, very good in the first two concertos and then in No. 6 providing quite possibly the highlight of the whole disc: Eichhorn has brought in one of the variations from Bach’s Chaconne in D minor and incorporated into the heart of the solo, and the result is a really well-written synthesis of the original Bach and the Rode themes which never feels like a stylistic clash. We’re fortunate to have such a thoughtful performer engaging so closely with the composer and his style, and the Jena Philharmonic under Nicolás Pasquet provide admirable support.

A note: if you insert the CD into your computer, the Gracenote track-identification software will report the wrong opus number for No. 4 (Op. 18 instead of Op. 16) and the wrong key for No. 6 (it’s in B flat, not B). Chai Ben-Shan’s paintings on the covers of the Naxos Rode series all look like completely different people, the two previous portraits looking much more dashing than this one. Don’t let appearances fool you: Pierre Rode’s music is a pleasure to be with.

Brian Reinhart

Pleasurable violin concertos of the ‘French school’ c. 1800, and the violinist joins in the spirit with his own excellent cadenzas.