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Obsession Baar CCS44822
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Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani (arr. Michael Waterman)
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Romance, Op 11 (1873, arr. Michael Waterman)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op 42 (1878, arr. Alexandru Lascae)
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in G minor, GT 2.g05 ‘Devil’s Trill’ (c 1735, arr. Fritz Kreisler, arr. Michael Waterman)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924, arr. Michael Waterman)
Niek Baar (violin)
Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra
rec. 2022, MCO Hilversum, Netherlands

Very recently Sebastian Bohren released a disc of beefed up Baroque trinkets (review) in which he was accompanied by chamber orchestras. Some of the arrangements were well known – Charlier, Leonard and Respighi - whilst others were newly minted. Now here is the young Dutch violinist Niek Baar with his selection of Baroque and Romantic Favourites, which shares with Bohren’s selection Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro and Tartini’s Devil’s Trill sonata, though in different arrangements.

Most of these arrangements are the work of the concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, Michael Waterman, though Alexandru Lascae arranged Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which is split throughout the programme; the Scherzo and Melodie preface the Devil’s Trill which is then followed by the Meditation, for reasons I don’t really understand. Baar is a good young player and something is made in the notes of his fiddle, a 1729 Carlo Bergonzi, though I instinctively recoil from fetishising violins in this way, relatively discreet though the booklet notes are about it.

I worry too that this is an unsatisfactory way to introduce Baar, who might well have been better served by a recital disc. The Kreisler arrangement is good of its type but clutters the writing and fills in the piano line to the extent that Baar is hemmed in. Dvořák’s Romance is a familiar piece of gracious intimacy that hardly needed much translation for string ensemble. Baar’s tone is fine but, again, you really have to buy into the album’s premise to enjoy it in preference to the fully orchestrated original – which isn’t that densely orchestrated in the first place. One might argue that no one is being forced to prefer it over the original, of course, but in a crowded marketplace that is really the reality.

Lascae, the Romanian violinist and conductor who died in 2009, makes much use of pizzicati in his Tchaikovsky arrangement and makes good expressive use of the strings to which Baar responds well. In fact, I think the single best performance on the disc is the Melodie. Waterman is determined to find the acerbity and gruffness in the Tartini as well as vesting the sonata with dark coloration and interesting sonorities. This is a work susceptible to arrangements and has received several over the years but I always feel the soloist has to battle with the accompaniment in a way he doesn’t with a piano. Baar plays pretty well though there are one or two squeaky notes from that Bergonzi of his. Waterman provides a warm and attractive blanket including cimbalom impressions for Baar in Tzigane but at least Baar has the stage for himself for nearly five minutes during which he emphasises the work’s introspection more than its fiery quasi-improvisation. I must have been listening to too many versions of Christian Ferras playing this, because I wasn’t really convinced by Baar.

The recording quality is fine and the booklet is in four languages but next time I hope that lock-down congeniality and comradely good spirits won’t be seen as advantageous commodities, certainly not when a more focused programme would have presented Baar rather better.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: October 18, 2022

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