Saint-Georges: Violin Concertos, Opp. 5 & 8 / Nishizaki, Müller-Brühl, Cologne Chamber Orchestra
These three violin concertos appear at a time when the music of the wider Classical Period--composers aside from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven--is garnering more attention than ever before. Labels like Naxos and its publishing affiliate, Artaria, are digging up, printing and recording large swaths of repertoire and proving just how high the standard of quality was during this epoch. Joseph Boulogne, a.k.a. the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, has always had a certain following, as much owing to his colorful life as warrior, statesman, and violin virtuoso of mixed-race parentage as to his gifts as a composer. These violin concertos may not be terribly adventurous formally, but they reveal an extremely cultured mind with a genuine gift for melody. They flow beautifully.
Each concerto has essentially the same form: a quick first movement, a central Andante or Largo, and a Rondeau finale in moderate tempo with a racy minor-key episode in the middle. While full of effective display for the solo instrument, they are not "virtuoso" works in the sense that the finales offer the most show-stopping moments. As in classical symphonies, the first movements are the most highly developed, and consequently the most difficult for the soloist, while those following offer a steady relaxation. Rapid figurations and wild bouts of frantic passagework are less important than a fine, singing tone and a cultivated sense of style.
In this last respect, the works find an ideal advocate in Takako Nishizaki. She plays each work with an elegance and fastidiousness that never becomes merely fussy or precludes a natural simplicity of expression. She masters the music's more virtuosic passages with ease, but makes the strongest impression at moments such as those in the opening movement of the Op. 5, No. 2 concerto where the composer expects absolute purity of intonation in very high-lying, exposed passages. Here, and at other similar moments, Nishizaki's sweet tone, tastefully controlled vibrato, and accuracy of pitch pay generous dividends. Of course, there's more to this music than mere cuteness, and Nishizaki certainly enjoys those special excursions, such as the "minore" sections of all three finales (Op. 8 in particular), which call for some serious fiddling in a more rugged, folk-style.
Still, it's the lovely slow movements that may linger most in your memory, particularly that of the C major concerto, with its Mozartean divided violas. Nishizaki adds her own entirely apt, brief cadenzas towards the end of each--the only places in these works that clearly encourage improvisation. Helmut Müller-Brühl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra offer vigorous support, though for my taste the harpsichord continuo sounds too prominent (the music doesn't really require it at all), and Naxos' recording, though richly sonorous and very well-balanced between soloist and orchestra, puts a slight glare on Nishizaki's upper register. Still, this isn't serious enough to preclude a strong recommendation for the Chevalier's finely crafted music, especially when it's played with such obvious care and affection.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Release Date: May 01, 2001
Catalog Number: 8555040
Number of Discs: 1
Composer: Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Conductor: Helmut Müller-Brühl
Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Performer: Takako Nishizaki