Unlike the early Wieniawski Concertos, those of Henry Vieuxtemps have never really stimulated soloists and record companies. You can’t state, as you can, say, of Rabin’s or Stern’s Wieniawski, ah, yes, the Gold Standard for Vieuxtemps’s F sharp major was the recording of Mr. X in 1953. Soloists have fought shy of both these works, perhaps feeling that the technical demands aren’t commensurate with the musical rewards, and that one’s on a hiding to nothing. The later concertos have invariably attracted them.
Nevertheless when one approaches the works as Hanslip and Brabbins do, warmly abetted by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra, things start to look up. Hanslip brings a wealth of neatly sculpted phrasing to bear to the E major, her feminine sounding wistfulness warmed with just enough tremulousness to vest the music with a particularly satisfying sense of characterisation. This she soon converts to something immediately uplifting and confident, even martial, and her canny control of dynamic extremes—and there are really extremes in this first movement—are seconded by Simon Eadon’s engineering. There are plenty of interesting things in this work. Listen hard and you’ll swear you can hear pre-echoes Vltava
coursing by at one point. The first movement cadenza ties things up thematically very nicely, but is unremittingly virtuosic.
Perhaps one concrete reason for the avoidance of No.1 is the lack of an Adagio
, or, to be accurate, the fact that the very brief Adagio section is really only a launching pad for the finale—in domestic architectural terms it’s the landing up to the next flight of stairs; necessary but more functional than beautiful. The finale is full of charming incidents, though they remain lightweight and fluently superficial. Hanslip’s bowing is light and dextrous throughout, and she takes advantage of the cantabile opportunities presented her, as well as the consistently virtuosic ones too.
The F sharp minor Concerto, which was actually composed four years before No.1, is half the length of the imposing but strangely balanced First. It’s a much more classical model, less indulgent than the First but, because of its place in the canon, indicative of Vieuxtemps’ more restrained models. It certainly generates less overt intensity, though it doesn’t stint on lyrical moments and a true sense of ‘longing’. The slow movement offers an ingratiating aria, which is perfect for Hanslip’s soft, delicate and refined musicianship. One can feel his influence on Sarasate most explicitly in this Andante
, though the finale doesn’t lack for geniality; the cadenza is especially well played.
As a close there is the Greeting to America
, a fluffy piece of persiflage that conflates Yankee Doodle
and The Star Spangled Banner
à la Paganini, in advance of Vieuxtemps’ 1843-44 tour of the country.
Vineta Sareika recorded the First Concerto very well in a set of all seven concertos (Fuga Libera 575) where Hrachya Avanesyan is the soloist in the recording of the Second Concerto. Misha Keylin has recorded an all-Vieuxtemps concerto cycle for Naxos. Meanwhile Alexander Markov (Erato 0630-17878-2) is a truly dashing exponent of No.2. Both Markov and Keylin evince rather more obviously high-powered machismo in their respective performances. I like that approach, especially when it tautens the occasional sprawl of the First Concerto. But Hanslip, with an outstanding recording, and sympathetic orchestral support, brings a wristy, light and sensitive suavity that is equally as impressive in its own way.
Volume 12 of Hyperion’s The Romantic Violin Concerto marches on.