Martinu: 2 Violin Concertos - Zimmermann, Hruša
BIS BIS 2457
Classical - Orchestral
Martinu: 2 Violin Concertos*
Bartók: Solo Sonata
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Jakob Hruša*, conductor
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 5, 2020
One more Frank Peter Zimmermann and another first choice from BIS
For evident reasons I expected much from this new release and let me say so straight away: I can’t think of anyone else doing it any better. Why? Look at who are playing. An old hand at the violin who doesn’t need any more laurels, a young hand at the baton who belongs to the select group of up and coming conductors, and the only German orchestra with Czech roots. And if that is not enough: “Jakub Hrůša is the president, and Frank Peter Zimmermann an honorary member, of the International Martinů Circle, an organisation dedicated to celebrating and promoting the music of Bohuslav Martinů”.
Both concerti breathe a world of difference. The first was commissioned in 1932 by Martinů’s American friend, Samuel Dushkin, a violin virtuoso; the second in 1943 by the Ukrainian immigrant, Mischa Elman, both mirroring their respective characters and temperament. Listening to the bravura in the first concerto it becomes clear that Dushkin was technically the more demanding. Asking for many changes and still not satisfied, it was never accepted. Probably the reason why it was shelved until re-discovered in 1968.
The second concerto, with which the program starts, is a combination of neo-classical and more contemporary elements and will appeal to Martinů fans and adventurous music lovers alike. Most of all because of the superlative way it is performed here. Jakub Hrůša and soloist Frank Peter Zimmerman show themselves to be excellent advocates of Martinů. They excel in lifting the concerto to a level where it can easily be counted among the best of its genre of the past century. Zimmermann’s playing is phenomenal. The few violinists, able to play a virtuoso concerto of this type, may technically be perfect, but Zimmermann goes a step or two further. Not only by skillfully extracting the emotional content, but also the underlying wonderfully expressive lyricism in the second movement. With the assertive support of Hrůša and his musicians, this is a fabulous and at times powerful experience indeed.
The liner notes mention that F.P. Zimmermann is “widely regarded as one of the foremost violinists of his generation”. A pretty standard phrase, but here every word of it is true. And if one is not entirely convinced that he is one of the world’s best living violinists, then listen to Bartok’s solo violin sonata. Even for the top echelon, it poses tremendous technical difficulties. Despite such hurdles, the varying colours of the sonata come out so breathtakingly well, that it would be hard to find anyone else who can do the same. What an exemplary mastery! Usually, as soon as the music stops, I start making comments. This time I took ten minutes or so to absorb the emotion of what I’d just heard. Like appreciating the aftertaste of an excellent premier cru claret.
The notes, provided by Michael Crump, go far beyond the customary informative lines. It’s almost a lecture for all those, and I suspect there are many, who are less familiar with Martinů (and Bartok), written by an expert who knows what he is talking about. Excellent reading while you listen.
One final remark. I found the cover quite telling. It allows me of getting something off my chest. Here we have a soloist in deep concentration. How different from the way many of his female colleagues, undoubtedly equally concentrated before a performance, are portrayed. That may be right for car sales, but for serious music, I’d expect something better.
The recording is a co-production with the Bayerische Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation) 24 bit – 98 kHz. The surround is just enough to create that three-dimensional effect. Clear strings, warm bass, and - quite exceptional - the balance between soloist and orchestra is not as exaggerated as is so often the case.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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