Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [45:05]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra in A minor Op.102 (1887) [3:32]
Georg Kulenkampff (violin); Enrico Mainardi (cello)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Carl Schuricht
rec. June 1936, Berlin (Beethoven) and July 1947, Geneva (Brahms)
Interesting programming has gone on here to conjoin Kulenkampff’s famous 1936 recording of the Beethoven with his overlooked 1947 Brahms Double with Mainardi in Geneva. There have certainly been those who have dissented from the general view that his Beethoven is deserving of the highest admiration, but the dissent is not always musically motivated. It tends to be rooted instead in the tension between supporters of Kulenkampff and his older German contemporary Adolf Busch. The latter group routinely denigrates the younger, Hanseatic violinist.
Let’s leave the partisan politics to one side. Kulenkampff and Schmidt-Isserstedt fashion a performance of great beauty and eloquence. The orchestral super-structure is revealed in considerable strength by this commanding Beethoven conductor, and Kulenkampff reveals pellucid upper position work of great beauty and vibrancy. He varies his passagework with imagination fashioned at all times with the music’s centrality at the core of his thinking. He doesn’t slow as much as his contemporaries, remaining elastic. Even so, his first movement is by no means fast. He plays the Kreisler cadenza, but then he’d already recorded the Mendelssohn Concerto - for export only, for obvious reasons. Very occasionally there are intonation slips but these blemishes are very rare. One can hear the recording’s long reverb after tuttis. The slow movement reveals the refined, seraphic side of this often exciting, in many ways un-German violinist whose affinity with Slavic and Nordic music was considerable. It was certainly more pronounced than his countrymen’s. He essays more portamenti here than earlier, slowing for reasons of expressive heightening and expansive legato. The finale is extremely fine, with a well integrated orchestral tapestry - outstanding horns, for example - and a fine, flexible lead from Schmidt-Isserstedt. There’s no question that this recording’s reputation is well deserved. It’s one of the most important recordings of the concerto on 78.
After the war Kulenkampff teamed with Enrico Mainardi, and Carl Schuricht, who directs the Suisse Romande orchestra in Brahms’s Double Concerto. For tensile power the pre-war Heifetz-Feuermann set the standard. Much earlier, Thibaud and Casals had mined the work’s expressive potential (not least of the central movement). These two recordings operated at very different levels and occupied far removed poles. If Kulenkampff had been partnered by someone else then his recording, astutely conducted by Schuricht, might have turned out to be more revealing and recommendable. But to me, at least, Mainardi’s every entry signals a drop in tension, in rhythm, and in excitement. He is in dogged mood, and is outclassed technically by his string partner, whom one feels somewhat accommodating his natural tempo to Mainardi’s, or trying to press on discreetly. The Decca FFRR recording is splendid, and one can certainly admire the very forwardly balanced wind choir, and the sinewy strings; and one can certainly admire Kulenkampff who plays with quicksilver engagement; and even Mainardi has his moments. But overall this was something of a mismatch. Andrew Rose has applied some light reverberation to the dryish studio sound.
Jonathan Woolf 

Pellucid work of great beauty and vibrancy. 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven violin concerto ~~ Brahms double concerto