Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Romance for violin and orchestra No.2 in F Op.50 [9:51]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto (1935) [26:10]
Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Nine Fantasy pieces [30:41]
Joseph JOACHIM (1831-1907)
Hebrew Melodies, Op 9 [22:16]
Pinchas Zukerman (violin, viola:Joachim)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Marc Neikrug (piano: Fuchs, Joachim)
rec. 24-25 February 1995, Henry Wood Hall, London; 30 May 1992 (Fuchs); 22 November 1994 (Joachim), Manhattan Center Studios, New York
First release of all recordings
BIDDULPH 80251-2 [35:54 + 53:05]

Listening to the quality of the playing on offer in this recent release, I’m rather perplexed as to why these recordings are only now making their first appearance on CD. The booklet doesn’t offer any explanation. They were set down in the early to mid-nineties, and are now issued under licence from Sony. I’m thrilled to see Biddulph back after a long absence, as I’ve acquired a substantial amount of their catalogue over the years; let’s hope they’re here to stay.

The Beethoven Romance for violin and orchestra No.2 in F Op.50 is a spacious account and broadly paced. The performance is notable for its reverential and aristocratic bearing. Zukerman’s long lines and eloquent phrasing are convincing in every way. I would have preferred the violinist to have been more forwardly placed in the sound-picture though. It’s a pity we haven’t also got its running mate the G major Op. 40.

The Concerto ‘To the Memory of an Angel’ is the most substantial work of the set. This is Berg’s reflection of his deep sense of loss at the death of the eighteen year old Manon Gropius, daughter of his friends Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius, from infantile paralysis in 1935. A pall of sorrow and tragedy hangs over the performance, and Mehta sets a mood of darkness and intensity in the opening bars. The tangible sadness and anguish are echoed in Zukerman’s contouring of the tortuous line. His large-scaled playing with many shades of tonal colour befit and benefit a canvas such as this. Mehta is particularly successful in twentieth century repertoire, and skilfully reveals the details and secrets that lie within the score. The reading is suitably decked with introspection and angst. The Bach’s chorale Es ist genug, incorporated into the last movement, is a contemplation of death, resignation and transcendence, and its appearance gives the feel of a cathartic release.

A selection of nine Fantasy pieces by Robert Fuchs has been chosen from the three sets Op. 40, Op. 74 and Op. 82. They are all rather short, lasting 2-3 minutes, with the exception of Op. 82, no. 1 which is almost 8 minutes. Echoes of Brahms permeate them. Each is tuneful and melodic and makes a pleasing listen. Op. 74, no. 6 is delicate and sprightly, whilst Op. 40 sounds the most Brahmsian, a delightful intermezzo. Zukerman’s translucent, diaphanous tone well-suits Op. 74, no. 7, and in Op. 82, no. 5 we are swept along by a lusty waltz. Neikrug is a sensitive accompanist, responding to the violinist’s every nuance and inflection.

What amazes me about Zukerman is that early in his career he chose to perform seriously on the viola as well as the violin, and is uniformly accomplished on both instruments. He possesses a rich, full-bodied tone and his intonation is equally up to the mark. It is beneficial that we have an example of his viola playing in the Joachim Hebrew Melodies. The three pieces, which exploit the darker characteristics of the instrument, were composed between 1855 and 1860 and take as their inspiration Byron’s Hebrew Melodies of 1815, a collection of twenty-three poems. Their generally overcast character is an attempt to express lamentation. All are slowly paced. The first and second pieces are sombre and melancholic, and Zukerman’s sonorous tone ably captures the mood. The third piece sounds more pastoral, and in the middle section the pace quickens and becomes more urgent.

Zukerman and Neikrug have collaborated in the recording studio many times, including the complete Beethoven and Brahms Violin Sonatas for RCA and Schubert’s complete works for Violin and Piano also for Biddulph. The latter are exceptionally fine, and I cannot praise them highly enough.

Long overdue for issue, these compelling and captivating recordings, making a welcome belated appearance — a feather in the cap for Biddulph. Douglas Jarman’s informative annotations complement this excellent release.

Stephen Greenbank

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