Schumann: Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra - Wallin / Beermann
Classical - Orchestral
Robert Schumann: Concerto in A minor for violin and orchestra (violin version by the composer of the Concerto in A minor for cello and orchestra Op. 129), Fantasy in C major for violin and orchestra Op. 131, Concerto in D minor for violin and orchestra
Ulf Wallin (violin)
Frank Beermann (conductor)
This rarity in the catalogue brings together Robert Schumann’s complete production for violin and orchestra – three works from the period just before the composer was confined to the mental institution where he would die within two years. To various degrees, all of this music remained suppressed, forgotten or disregarded after Schumann’s death. The only work that was performed in Schumann’s lifetime was the Fantasy in C major, dedicated to the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. But although the première was a success and Joachim kept the work in his repertoire, the Fantasy fell victim to the incomprehension that a large part of Schumann’s final works met with, and was for a long time rarely heard in performance.
Written shortly afterwards, the Violin Concerto in D minor suffered an even harsher fate. Schumann also intended this work for Joachim, but although the latter was closely involved in the process of composition, he never performed the work in public. Instead, after the composer’s death he and Schumann’s widow Clara decided against publishing the work, which remained unperformed until 1937. It is likely that Schumann made the violin version of his Cello Concerto after composing the D-minor concerto, and probably it was once more Joachim who provided the inspiration. In any case, it was among Joachim’s papers that the solo violin part with Schumann’s handwritten additions was found, as late as 1987!
A dedicated advocate of Schumann’s music, the soloist Ulf Wallin has gone back to the composer's autographs in order to present these works in their purest form. He is aided by the fine team of the Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie and their conductor Frank Beerman, making their first appearance on BIS. Ulf Wallin, on the other hand, has made a succession of acclaimed recordings for the label, earning him mentions as ‘a mesmerizing soloist’ in BBC Music Magazine, and ‘a violinist of many facets, at the same time hallucinatory and direct, refined and accessible’ in Diapason.
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Recorded in June 2009 at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany, 24/44.1
Producer: Ingo Petry
Sound engineer: Stephan Reh
Equipment: DPA and Neumann microphones; Lake People microphone preamplifier; RME high resolution A/D converter; Tascam DM3200 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers
Post-production: Editing: Christian Starke, Elisabeth Kemper
Mixing: Stephan Reh, Ingo Petry
Executive producer: Robert Suff
Review by Mark Novak - November 15, 2011
This SACD is a delight! It begins with a performance of the famous Schumann cello concerto in A minor transcribed by Schumann himself for the violin. Hearing these familiar tunes in a new guise is quite satisfying, so much so that one would think the work was originally written for violin. Ulf Wallin, a frequent BIS recording artist over the years, plays with great expression and urgency extracting every bit of romantic drama from the score. The Robert Schumann Philharmonie directed by Frank Beermann is equally impressive. The ebb and flow with the soloist is perfect with the solo violin getting enough prominence to be heard above the accompaniment. If anything, it would have been nice to have the solo violin more a part of the orchestral fabric but this is certainly no worse than the majority of solo concerto recordings extant. The 22 minutes goes by quickly with such exquisite music making. I’ve only been able to find one other recording of this (on an Onyx RBCD performed by Phillipe Graffin with the Saarbrucken Philharmonic) but do not have it on hand for comparison. In any case, the Wallin is extremely satisfying and in excellent sound – don’t hesitate.
The Fantasy in C for violin and orchestra follows. This 16 minute piece, written late in Schumann’s life, is full of good melodies and soulful expression. This piece has garnered many more performances over the years (one web site shows 22 recordings available). Throughout this program, Ulf Wallin plays a Domenico Montagnana violin (he was making violins in the early 18th century) and it is a full-throated and expressive instrument, ideal for these romantic compositions especially when played as expertly as Wallin does. Beermann and band are not mere time counters but full participants in the unfolding drama.
Last comes the real gem of this release – Schumann’s red-headed step-child violin concerto in D minor, also written late in his life but not getting its first performance until 1937. Joachim was an early advocate of the work during its composition but as time went on he seems to have lost interest in it and never performed it despite scheduling a performance in 1854 that never materialized. Ulf Wallin, who also is the note writer of the BIS booklet, speculates that Joachim may have thought the work to be too technically demanding (he was only 22 years old at the time) and sought excuses for not performing it. Though Joachim left many suggestions and emendations, Wallin and crew have decided to use Schumann’s original for this recording. If you don’t know this concerto, I urge you to make its acquaintance via this recording. It is a marvelous piece. Cast in the usual three movements of 32 minute duration, it is in every way a wonderful work that can stand alongside the Mendelssohn concerto in E minor (in fact, these two concertos have been coupled together a number of times). There are 18 available performances according to one web site from a variety of soloists, the most prolific advocate being Gidon Kremer who’s had three recordings (none of which I know). I first became familiar with it via Thomas Zehetmair’s performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Dohnanyi on a RBCD from the 1990’s and then in a later recording from Joshua Bell.
The D minor key brings drama galore. The piece launches with an orchestral flourish that sets the stage for the unfolding dialogue between soloist and orchestra. The opening theme is memorable and well developed during the course of the movement. Wallin plays with great passion and precision and he is matched bar for bar by Beermann and the band. There is a brief island of repose before the finishing flourish of the coda. The second movement, marked langsam, is beautifully evocative. A languid, searching melody wends its way through the movement over a relatively static accompaniment. This leads attacca to the third movement where sturm und drang coalesces with islands of melody. A cogent and fitting conclusion to a very good piece of music.
The sonics (the stereo SACD tracks) are very good. Excepting the slight prominence of the solo violin noted above, the balances are ideal with just the right amount of hall sound permeating the direct, full-bodied sound of the orchestra. I would have liked a bit more of the double basses and orchestral foundation in the mix but it is a minor complaint. Sound engineer Stephen Reh, recording in the Lukaskirche in Dresden has done a bang-up job with the mix. Very natural and thrilling with excellent dynamics. If you are not familiar with Schumann’s violin concerto, by all means avail yourself of this excellent BIS SACD – I think you will be happy to make its acquaintance.
Copyright © 2011 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net
Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 21, 2011
This disc has received a positive response here and elsewhere. And, indeed, BIS should be complemented for giving us Schumann’s complete oeuvre for violin and orchestra on one single disk. In that sense, and from a collector’s point of view, it is already a must. The final work, however, has always been and still remains a problematic piece.
For a better understanding we have to delve a bit deeper. Much has been said about Schumann’s orchestration. Many, and certainly not his least famous colleagues, have expressed reservations about the orchestral parts of his solo concerti, finding it often too heavy and in places too ‘congested’. Shostakovich, for instance, re-orchestrated the cello concerto, correcting what he thought were mistakes, making the orchestral fabric lighter and leaner. Nice though it undeniably is, the result is, to my mind, too recognizably Shostakovich, with ample use of wind instruments.
Schumann’s own transcription for the violin, thought to have been an attempt to save the concerto by replacing his not so well received cello concerto to a solo instrument which, in those days, was more common, fares better. I was not familiar with it and I would not be surprised if some prefer it over the original cello version. It stands up in its own right. Especially with regard to the accomplished way Ulf Wallin handles the violin part. (I am eagerly awaiting his rendition of all three Schumann violin sonatas to be issued shortly by BIS).
During Schumann’s lifetime something must have gone amiss, because it was only after rediscovery of a transcript that the first performance took place as late as 1987. A similar fate underwent his d minor violin concerto, of which the dedicatee, Joseph Joachim, found the solo part too difficult and the instrumentation too awkward. Clara Schumann asked him to re-write the third movement and Joachim put forward suggestions which met with Schumann’s refusal. A try-out in Leipzig (Gewandhaus 1858) turned out to be a disaster and Joachim finally decided not to play it ever again. Since Clara Schumann had her doubts and Brahms did not want to include it in the Breitkopf Gesamtausgabe (of which he was the editor), the three of them decided not to publish the concerto.
Being his last major composition, Schumann was already suffering from a mental breakdown and against this background it may have been meant for his best, such as not to ‘lay a shadow over his output during his most creative years’. Be that as it may, the concerto was put away for a long time and its first public performance took place in Germany (The German Government insisted, as they claimed the copy rights) with Georg Kulenkampff as soloist (November 1937). Paul Hindemith helped him with numerous changes in the difficult third movement in order to make it more playable. The result (a historic recording is available on You Tube) is not great. Despite fervent supporters, like Yehudi Menuhin and Gidon Kremer, the violin concerto has never reached the popularity of Bruch and Mendelssohn.
It seems nonetheless to have had a magical attraction to some violinists, if only as a challenge to make something out of a basically beautiful concerto hindered by unfortunate scoring. The biggest problem lies in the third movement: slow polonaise rhythm, repetitious and too many notes for the soloist. It needs a very skilled player and an alert ‘Chef’. In less competent hands the final movement quickly becomes a nightmare. In his interpretation, Ulf Wallin, like Thomas Zehetmair, has gone back to the original score. The result, however, is less convincing than one would have hoped for. The somewhat clumsy score remains. Compared to Gidon Kremer’s 1983 recording with Ricardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), the first and second movements come off quite well, but I have heard a better third movement (Frank Peter Zimmerman). Whereas Kremer tries to wash away the odd bits in a fast tempo, Wallin’s is so slow that it emphasizes the weak points. The flow of the music is broken, the repetitions become troublesome and the many notes leaves one with the impression of someone practicing rather than playing. There seems to be friction between soloist and orchestra.
I do not blame the performers as it is inherent in the score. Perhaps most revealing of the controversial problems posed to soloist, conductor and orchestra alike, is that Gidon Kremer revisited the concerto, apparently seeking to ‘correct’ his first approach by another recording (1994 with Harnoncourt), playing the final movement much slower resulting in a ‘sluggish’ and hardly any better performance (I am not familiar with his third attempt).
Ulf Wallin’s liner notes are superb and the recording up to BIS’ usual standard. You may want to listen to this disk, reflect upon it and form you own opinion, it certainly is a rewarding exercise.
Copyright © 2011 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net