Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 (1845) [24:47] Niels Wilhelm GADE (1817-1890)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.56 (1880) [26:53]
Thomas Albertus Irnberger (violin)
Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra/Doron Salomon
rec. January 2015, Henry Crown Auditorium, Jerusalem GRAMOLA 99075 SACD [51:45]
The coupling is appropriate and historically interesting. Due to illness Mendelssohn‘s place as conductor of the world premiere of his E minor concerto was taken by Niels Gade, his understudy with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. On Mendelssohn’s death, Gade was to replace him as the orchestra’s principal conductor. So there is a certain piquancy in conjoining the two concertos in this way.
Gramola notes that the Mendelssohn is performed in the ‘second edition of 1845’, which is another way of saying that it’s the standard edition; the first edition involved significant divergences from the way the work is heard these days.
I’ve enjoyed listening to Irnberger’s recordings before, and invariably find him a gutsy and committed player. He is something of a risk-taker on disc, and that’s a rarity these days. That said, I find the standard concerto the less impressive of the two. Elements of mannerism creep in – there are some decidedly off-putting scoops that are meant to exude expressive richness but tend to sound effortful and, worse, a touch predictable. At a reasonably fast basic pulse, some of the passagework bowing also sounds slightly self-satisfied, rather than sounding fully embedded into the concerto’s rhetoric. Those expressive gulps reappear in the second movement, where he leans on a couple of notes a little too much - the effect being of a kind of very wide, slow L-shaped portamento. Close miking in the finale ensures we hear every brush stroke, and in those passages where the soloist is often swept into the orchestral fabric we can hear Irnberger clearly. Orchestrally things are perfectly adequate, though there isn’t much magic in this performance.
He sounds more comfortable in the less well-known concerto, where he unbends a little, and isn’t shadowed by the ghosts of past performances. He evinces good tonal depth, and is more inclined to dig into the string than Christina Åstrand (Dacapo 6.220562 - review), and clearly enjoys the many lyric opportunities afforded by Gade. To that end he is slower than his Dacapo competitor in the slow movement, and much slower than the old recording made by Kai Laursen on a Danacord box (DACOCD 461-470: review ~ review ~ review) in now sub-par recording quality. Nevertheless he doesn’t wallow and maintains a proper intensity of sound, playing the finale with charismatic vitality - one rather smeary episode apart. Irnberger is no stranger to Gade, having recorded the sonatas on Gramola 98867 with Edoardo Torbianelli.
Recommendation is difficult. The disc is short measure and the Mendelssohn rather surplus to requirements. The Gade recording is good, though Åstrand plays splendidly too and is just as versed in the idiom as Irnberger, having also recorded the three sonatas. In the end her couplings may decide things – concertos by Lange-Muller and Langgaard, which are too interesting to ignore.