Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) [40:05]
Ginette Neveu (violin)
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. 3 May 1948, Hamburg Music Hall
ACANTA 233585 [40:05]
In addition to her studio recording of the Brahms Concerto with Dobrowen and the Philharmonia in 1946, we are fortunate that several live Ginette Neveu performances of the work were preserved before her untimely death in an air crash. There are accounts with Roger Désormière and the ORTF [in April 1948 on Tahra TAH2.355-357], with Antal Dorati and the Hague orchestra in June 1949 [Music & Arts CD837], and the one under review with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt in Hamburg in May 1948. All the live broadcasts thus post-date that famous and oft-reissued studio inscription.
You may first have encountered this Hamburg performance on a Scribendum double CD, or before that on a double LP set on RR550. If not, then this Acanta release offers a good opportunity to acquire a reading both purposeful and intense, wholly reflective both of Neveu’s best Brahms style and Schmidt-Isserstedt’s elevated accompanying role. Indeed, given the work’s tapestry-like collusion between grandeur and intimacy, between leading and following, between quasi-symphonic power and chamber delicacy, the interplay between soloist and conductor is at its most acutely important. I’d say that Schmidt-Isserstedt is, in many ways, the most perceptive and sympathetic collaborator among the four who accompanied her.
Neveu displays once again her arc-like surety in this work. Her trills are of tight though not electric velocity, her portamenti quickly flecked, finger position changes finely honed and judged. Her first movement cadenza is outstandingly played. In the slow movement candour is balanced by discipline, her tone warmed by expressive intensity, the solo oboe and wind chording refined.  She sounds spatially a little distant at the very start of the finale but the violin comes into aural focus soon enough. There’s a fine sense of charged animation here, and some occasional rough tone as well, which adds to the excitement. She was the least antiseptic of players. Schmidt-Isserstedt brings out something of the gypsy impetus here and a lot of those March fillips in the orchestral passages that usually lie submerged.
So, this is a truly memorable souvenir - much more, in truth, a living document - of Neveu’s art in collaboration with a distinctive and musically elevated conductor and orchestra. The sound is vivid. Short playing time though, as there is no coupling.
Jonathan Woolf
Truly memorable - short playing time though. 

Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto 

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