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Wartime Consolations
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Concerto funèbre for violin and string orchestra (1939, rev. 1959)
Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Concertino for violin and string orchestra, Op. 42 (1948) [18.36]
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47, No. 3 (1949) [10.44]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Unfinished Sonata for violin and piano (1945) [5.25]
Linus Roth (violin), José Gallardo (piano)
Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn/Ruben Gazarian
rec. 2014, Kulturforum Saline, Offenau, Germany; Motormusic Studio, Mechelen, Belgium

Challenge Classics introduces listeners to four twentieth century scores all written within a decade of each other.

Mieczysław Weinberg has risen out of the pack of forgotten composers with a momentum that shows no sign of waning. Fingers crossed that the resurgence is replicated in concert hall performances. The feature work on this release is surely Weinberg’s Concertino for violin and string orchestra, Op. 42 a jewel written in 1948 at the time of the ‘anti-formalist’ decrees. Its origin is vague and it seems that the unperformed manuscript was lost until resurfacing after Weinberg’s death. In three movements the engaging and compelling Concertino is characteristic Weinberg with a blend of introspection, melancholy and tempered vitality. The opening movement Allegro Cantabile is the most memorable with the soloist playing an incessant and attractively lyrical theme that creates a curiously restrictive, rather ambiguous feeling. Another excellent account of the Concertino well worth hearing is played by Kremerata Baltica under Gidon Kremer. That version was recorded in 2012 on an all-Weinberg release on ECM New Series (review).

A further splendidly memorable score is Weinberg’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47, No. 3 from 1949. My understanding is that this is an arrangement for violin and string orchestra by Ewelina Nowicka which is in turn based on a chamber version. In truth I couldn’t make much sense of the explanation in the liner notes. The score is heavily accented with Moldavian folk melodies in a stirring, highly lyrical style that would be obsequiously in keeping with the Soviet authorities’ demand for relatively simple melodic and traditional folk music. On the other hand for what are distinctly Jewish melodies one wonders how Weinberg avoided censure and punishment by the Soviet authorities for ‘Cosmopolitanism’ - Soviet-speak for unwanted Jewish influences. Roth’s total involvement in the spirit of the work is palpable. He finds just the right balance of determination, energy and technical virtuosity.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann is best known for his Concerto funèbre for violin and string orchestra. Written in 1939 and considerably revised in 1959 Hartmann stated that the score reflected “The intellectual and spiritual hopelessness of the age.” Of the Munich born composer’s four concertos only Concerto funèbre remains in the repertoire. Responding splendidly Roth gives a gripping performance of Hartmann’s affecting and demanding four movement score. Especially remarkable is Roth’s playing of the second movement Adagio. It commences with an intensely menacing atmosphere, like a film score to an Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller, continuing with a dark, brooding sadness.

The final work, Shostakovich’s unfinished Violin Sonata is a curiosity which according to the notes is being given its world première recording. Following the opening up of the Soviet archives this little known six minute long manuscript from 1945 held at the Russian State Archives for Literature and Art came into the public domain. Roth’s interpretation reveals the fragment as a bleak, desolate landscape with the assertive violin part taking centre-stage over the piano.

This hybrid SACD was reviewed using my standard CD player. Recorded in 2014 at the Kulturforum Saline, Offenau, Germany these concertos are splendidly presented with excellent clarity, presence and balance. The unfinished Violin Sonata was recorded at the Motormusic Studio, Mechelen in Belgium and also enjoys the benefit of admirable sound. Playing the Antonio Stradivari ‘Dancla’ (1703) Roth is in commanding form throughout. With unforced virtuosity these are firm and purposeful interpretations that penetrate deep to the emotional core of the works. Founded in 1960 the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn deserves to be better known. Under the baton of principal conductor and artistic director Ruben Gazarian the chamber orchestra plays with irresistible style and unyielding engagement. It proves a sympathetic partner for Linus Roth.

Marvellously performed and recorded, if this fascinating twentieth-century repertoire appeals this is a ‘must buy’.

Michael Cookson



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