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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in D minor, MWV 0 3 (1822) [22:47]
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra (1939) [23:11]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Antiche danze ed arie, Suite No.3 (1931) [15:36]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rondo for violin and strings in A Major, D.438 (1816) [15:16]
Sebastian Bohren (violin)
Chaarts Chamber Aartists
rec. September 2016, Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich
RCA RED SEAL 88985 39497-2 [76:50]

The disc is called Op.2 because this is the second of Sebastian Bohren’s RCA discs with the Chaarts Chamber Aartists. In fact, the only deplorable thing about the release is the name of the group with its surfeit of vowels.

The major work is Hartmann’s Concerto funčbre, of which there are now fortunately a number of contemporary recordings to augment the first, classic Gertler recording with Ančerl. As I’ve remarked before in a review of the concerto, no one today begins to replicate Gertler’s very personal, expressively romantic tonal arsenal. Refinement and a rather taut intensity tend to be the way violinists approach it these days, from Zehetmair to Ibragimova to Faust. The concerto thus builds cumulatively toward the overpoweringly moving Choral but each of the named players, with their various collaborators on disc, find subtly different means by which to convey these feelings. Bohren’s intensity is conveyed as much through the right arm as the left. His attacks can be incisive and razory, his dynamics, in places, extreme so the tone becomes a whisper. Importantly he brings out its Bergian qualities. Perhaps coincidentally Hartmann’s string writing also sounds, in places, quite like Britten’s. Bohren is also characterful when it comes to the work’s dimensions. The second movement Adagio is slow – though Čeněk Pavlík on Panton was even slower - and getting on for two minutes slower than Zehetmair for example, in this movement alone (and it’s a compact concerto). Nevertheless, Bohren’s is a fine reading indeed, though it doesn’t dislodge Ibragimova’s more complex approach and yet she is almost as slow as Bohren in the finale. For my own tastes the tauter approach here of Gertler, Snítil (also with Ančerl conducting, on Radio Servis CD), Faust and Zehetmair is preferable.

The programme does have a somewhat strange look and if you wanted the Hartmann you’d possible look askance at the remainder. But the early Mendelssohn Concerto in D minor – assuredly not the E minor, this – is played with deft detailing. This was the concerto that Menuhin famously dug out in 1952 for first performance, and recorded. Even in a church acoustic, the bass line is defined, the reverberation not excessive; the small chamber band is well balanced. Bohren plays with energetic and youthful vitality. The Schubert Rondo is played with stylistic assurance. Then there is Respighi’s Antiche danze ed arie, Suite No.3. You’d have to have a heart harder than mine to resist this confection of sixteenth and seventeenth century tunes and the small group brings out its warmth very well indeed.

Given the fine recording and the decent notes it only remains to see if the programme appeals. Clearly Bohren and RCA calculate that the Hartmann will draw you in and you’ll stay to enjoy the other works.

Jonathan Woolf


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