Great Violin Concertos
The essence of a concerto is the contrast and combination of a solo instrument with a larger instrumental ensemble. Having developed out of the Baroque concept of concerto grosso, the concerto genre was fully established in the eighteenth century, and many works dating from this period are still a key part of the repertoire today. The opportunity for virtuosic display from the soloist has resulted in the concerto becoming a vital musical force on the concert platform.
The violin concerto owes a great deal of its development to the technical achievement of performers, and to this day many works are renowned for their fierce technical demands. Indeed, many composers who have written for the instrument were superlative players themselves—Wieniawski and Paganini among them. The fascinating history and capabilities of the instrument can be traced through the compositions contained herein; from the gossamer threads of Vivaldi to the exhilarating fireworks of Prokofiev, via the lilting swagger of Lalo and Saint-Saëns and nationalistic panache of Sibelius and Glazunov.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
Spohr: Concerto no 8
"Louis Spohr, once considered to hold a place among the greatest composers of his era, subsequently fell into a gray oblivion, only to be resurrected several times during the 20th century. Although his compositional output might have been more encompassing than those of many of his fellow violinist-composers, he may for practical purposes remain in contention principally for the honor of being one of the greatest of them rather than one of the greatest of composers in general.
The Eighth Concerto, written for Italian audiences, depends more heavily on Italianate forms and procedures. It’s soaring aria-like slow movement, its showy finale, and, most of all, its extended first movement recitative—all three encrusted with breathtaking ornamentation—provide a violinist with an ideal showcase. Heifetz, like Ethel Merman, could belt a tune in a way that defied audiences not to listen, and he played this Concerto, cutting down the tuttis, as he often did, with irresistible authority. Spohr denigrated Paganini’s manner of producing staccato off the string, and though Heifetz’s flying staccato, which he claimed to have had difficulty mastering, became one of his trademarks, he could electrify audiences with Spohr’s more solid staccatos on the string, so many passages of which adorn this Concerto. Albert Spalding’s recording of the work appealed to many who may have considered Heifetz’s a bit over the top, but it’s hardly as visceral; and, more recently, neither Uto Ughi (Dynamic 522, 31:1) nor Hilary Hahn (Deutsche Grammophon 000718802, 30:3) could recreate that magic. Though not nearly as confident as Heifetz, Lamsma still generates high voltage in, for example, the slow movement’s fast episode, and she plays with congenial sensitivity in the Adagio’s main sections. And unlike Heifetz, who succumbed to the temptation to add thirds to the last movement’s passages (as his teacher, Auer, did in Tchaikovsky’s cadenza to his Violin Concerto), she makes a case for it even while playing it straight. The Sixth Concerto’s misterioso returns enhanced in the 11th, which begins with an Adagio introduction that, if it’s not the Wolf’s Glen scene, may be the closest thing violinists have, and that introduces a main theme that postures squarely but stylishly as do some of Schumann’s melodic ideas. Warsop suggests that this Concerto might profitably be revived; it’s lucky that a sympathetic violinist like Lamsma has done so. Here’s a worthy counterpart to Bruch’s concertos (listeners might notice a similarity between the style of writing for the violin in Spohr’s concertos and in the first movement of Bruch’s Third) and a worthy champion. Listeners and would-be aficionados of Spohr may still find it a sort of stumbling block to full admiration that so many of Spohr’s harmonic turns and violinistic passages sound all too familiar—the 11th Concerto’s finale, for example, suggests, however obliquely, the Duo, op. 67/2. Violinist-composers have a notoriously hard time not following their fingers’ lead. Naxos’s program of Spohr concertos deserves a hearing for the young soloist’s’ bravado tempered with sensibility as well as for the orchestra’s generally sympathetic and competent accompaniment. But above all, it stands out for its version of the once famous Gesangszene, as it’s often called, perhaps the best after Heifetz’s—and, with Lamsma’s personal approach, a creditable alternative. Many violinists don’t have a sufficiently strong personality to project Spohr’s; Lamsma already does."
Paganini: Concerto no 1
"lya Kaler is a Russian virtuoso (born in Moscow in 1963), a pupil of Leonid Kogan and a very good player, too. Paganini's once fiendish pyrotechnics hold no terrors for him, not even the whistling harmonics, and how nicely he can turn an Italianate lyrical phrase, as in the secondary theme of the first movement of the First Concerto. Then he can set off with panache into a flying staccato, bouncing his bow neatly on the strings when articulating the delicious spiccato finales of both works. Stephen Gunzenhauser launches into the opening movements with plenty of energy and aplomb and is a sympathetic accompanist throughout—he is never heavy in orchestral writing that can easily sound vapid or stodgy...Kaler's intonation is above suspicion and he is naturally balanced: there is none of the scratchiness that can ruin one's pleasure in Paganinian pyrotechnics."
-- I.M., Gramophone
Dvorak and Glazunov Concertos
"Kaler’s playing of these Romantic, sweetly-tuned works is excellent. His technique copes more than adequately with the technical demands of the Glazunov, a composer considered bourgeois in post-1917 Russia and dealt an uncharitable blow here by a critic who said he led Russian music in a comfortable decline into ignominious mediocrity. Not so, his work deserves as high a profile as Dvorák’s whose concerto is sympathetically presented."
-- Christopher Fifield , BBC Music Magazine
Vieuxtemps: Concerto no 5
"Keylin...plays the concerto as a grand dramatic statement, with a largeness of conception that may not be altogether fashionable—but then, neither is the concerto, and there’s really no better way to play it if you’re going to play it at all. He takes advantage, as he does in all the concertos, of Vieuxtemps’s singing passages on all four strings, finding the appropriate individuality for each on the 1715 Baron Knoop Stradivari, lent to him for the performances. If his passagework lacks Heifetz’s or Kogan’s effortlessness, his sense of the pieces’ perfect adaptation to their medium, together with his big sound and serious approach to works all too often dismissed as trivial, make adequate amends."
-- Robert Maxham, Fanfare
Catalog Number: 8501058
Composer: Alexander Glazunov, Antonín Dvořák, Antonio Vivaldi, Camille Saint-Saëns, Dmitri Shostakovich, Edouard Lalo, Felix Mendelssohn, Henri Vieuxtemps, Henri Wieniawski, Jean Sibelius, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Louis Spohr, Max Bruch, Niccolò Paganini, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Sir Edward Elgar, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Adrian Leaper, Andrew Mogrelia, Antoni Wit, Bjarte Engeset, Camilla Kolchinsky, Johannes Wildner, Kenneth Jean, Oliver Dohnányi, Patrick Gallois, Stephen Gunzenhauser
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Capella Istropolitana, Katowice Polish Radio/TV Symphony Orchestra, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice, Sinfonia Finlandia, Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Polish Radio/TV Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Dong-Suk Kang, Henning Kraggerud, Ilya Kaler, Marat Bisengaliev, Misha Keylin, Simone Lamsma, Takako Nishizaki, Tedi Papavrami