Wartime Consolations
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)

Concerto funebre [21:27]
Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Concertino Op.42 [17:36]
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes Op.47 No.3 (arr. Nowicka) [10:44]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Unfinished Sonata (1945) for violin and piano [5:25]
Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn/Ruben Gazarian
Linus Roth (violin), José Gallardo (piano)
rec. 2015, Kulturforum Saline, Offenau, Germany, Motormusic Studio, Mechelen, Belgium (no date))
Hybrid SACD/CD Surround 5.1 & Stereo
reviewed in surround

This is an unexpectedly curious coupling. Hartmann is fairly well known as a serious and significant figure not given to show. Weinberg is on the rise from almost complete obscurity and so far has also seemed very serious. His opera The Passenger which was produced at English National Opera not so long ago, shows just how serious. By choosing to call this disc 'Wartime Consolations' one's expectations are that the Weinberg pieces will to some extent match the deeply sad and disturbing world of Hartmann's Concerto funebre. Not so. Weinberg is represented here by pieces that show a very different side to his personality. The Concertino and the Rhapsody turn out to be lyrical and virtuoso by turns, the latter decided virtuoso. Then there is the Shostakovich premiere. A five minute surprise of great interest.

This recording of Karl Amadeus Hartmann's violin concerto brings my tally to four recordings. The old Supraphon performance issued in about 1969, coupled with the Hindemith Concerto, was played by André Gertler with no less a figure than Karel Ančerl conducting the Czech Philharmonic. It was a significant discovery and more recent recordings by Thomas Zehetmair and Gordan Nikolić have just strengthened my belief that we have a major concerto here which should be played much more regularly. Since Linus Roth makes a first class job of the work, there is no reason to hesitate. The concerto has a haunting opening, announcing a key theme that will return to trouble the final pages of this tragic work. The Largo and Andante are effectively a long-drawn lament, both lovely and very sad. The Allegro di molto is dramatic and rhythmic, a sort of Shostakovich and Bartók mix that slowly loses impetus to end in solemn restraint. This prepares the way for the deeply pessimistic final Chorale. This picks up the theme of the opening and draws the music to an ending of utter desolation - both wonderful and moving. The final chord is spine-tingling.

After this, Weinberg's Concertino is a shock. Given the distressing course of his life both before and after this time, this lyrical and upbeat concerto is almost too untroubled. The notes suggest he was doing his best to satisfy the Soviet authorities. However, because he was a very talented musician he achieves a light effect without sounding in the least trivial. Two attractive outer movements frame a lovely slow one which opens with the cadenza. The coda is very lively indeed. The Rhapsody needs some explaining. What we have recorded here is an arrangement by Ewelina Nowicka for violin and orchestra of the second version of his Rhapsody which Weinberg composed for violin and piano. The first version was for orchestra alone. Since Weinberg himself made a version for violin and orchestra, but the score is lost, this represents a reconstruction more than an arrangement. A note in the booklet goes into still more detail. Suffice to say that this is still more bright and cheerful than the Concertino and has a second part that reminds one of Khachaturian at his most energetic. It is terrific fun. Apparently David Oistrakh used to play this as an encore piece; not at all surprising.

Finally the Shostakovich: in 1945 the composer wrote the exposition of what would have been a very large violin sonata. A few bars into the development he simply stopped composing. The performance also simply stops. Since the material turns up in his great Tenth Symphony one can appreciate that this may be only five minutes of music, but it is the real thing and worth rescuing from the archive.

Add to all this top class recordings and first class performances and this simply has to be bought.

Dave Billinge

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson and Gwyn Parry-Jones


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