Klassik  SoloInstrument mit Orchester
Benjamin Schmid & Daniel Raiskin & Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie Mendelssohn - Schumann - Bruch OC 725 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 725
Release date05/01/2009
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Bruch, Max
  • Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix
  • Schumann, Robert

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      Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
      Konzert für Violine und Orchester op. 64 e-Moll

      Robert Schumann
      Fantasie für Violine und Orchester op. 131 C-Dur

      Max Bruch
      Konzert für Violine und Orchester Nr. 1 op. 26 g-Moll

      Benjamin Schmid, Violine · Daniel Raiskin, Dirigent Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie

      Benjamin Schmid is one of today’s most versatile and exciting modern violinists. In addition to his career as a classical violinist, he is also a successful and in-demand jazz interpreter who regularly performs with major jazz musicians like Biréli Lagrène and Georg Breinschmid. It is all the more interesting to hear recordings of two absolute standard violin works – Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor and Bruch’s Violin Concerto, op. 1 – from a violinist with such a background. The program is rounded out by a seldom-heard work: Robert Schumann’s Fantasie op. 131, which the composer wrote at the request of Joseph Joachim.

      “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome… In the Rhine, in the holy stream…” Heinrich Heine

      The works on this CD were created on the shores of the Rhine. Cologne, Düsseldorf, Koblenz – these cities all bore witness to the sketches and premieres of three violin masterpieces.

      Not by chance did Felix Mendelssohn- Bartholdy once write in a letter that musical notes have as specific a meaning as words – possibly, he stressed, “even more specific”. It would appear that music, which allows for an incredibly varied number of interpretations – every listener has their own point of view! – is far, far from the specific nature of a word. But amazingly Mendelssohn combined the extremely high level of generalisation typical of music with a flexible, light form that is imbued with the musical idea. It did not need any wordy explanation. Not undeservedly Mendelssohn’s pieces, loved by millions, carry the title Songs without Words. And so Schumann’s concept of “speaking melody” came to be adopted by critiques and literature about music. Romantics, it could be said, literally brought Beethoven’s testament to life: “From the heart. May I penetrate to the heart again.” (epigraph to Missa solemnis).

      Musical Romanticism was born from the Viennese classics. Is Mozart’s famous Symphony in G minor not the first Romantic symphony? We should recall how Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 – like Mozart’s Symphony in G minor – immediately, with no orchestral introduction, begins with the passionately perturbed main theme. The secondary theme of the sonata allegro is a bright image of a beautiful dream. The development and progression of these themes, filled with drama, can be compared with the sudden appearance of a cloud of anxiousness, only momentarily casting its shadow over the light of the music. Before the reprise and the coda decisively conclude the Allegro molto appassionato, the sad notes can be detected in the monologue cadenza of the solo violin. The middle movement of the Concerto – Andante – can be equated to the unfolding of an operatic aria, full of touching, loving lyricism, peace and happiness. And once again the echoes of past troubles arise for an instant in the brief introduction (Allegretto non troppo) – the “bridge” to the final movement of the Concerto. The finale – Allegro molto vivace – glitters with joy and life, it seizes us with its energetic rhythm and virtuoso sparkle.

      The finest comment on the Violin Concerto composed by Mendelssohn some years before his death could be the very life of this most harmonious composer and artist, referred to as the “19th Century’s Mozart” by Schumann who idolised him. A happy childhood, a brilliant education at home – his tutors were renowned pianist and composer Ludwig Berger and outstanding teacher, composer and Director of the Berlin Singakademie Carl Friedrich Zelter… The young Felix Mendelssohn was only twelve years old when Zelter took him to the home of his great friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Felix played Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and his own improvisations for the “sun of Weimar”, as he called Goethe. When Mendelssohn visited Goethe in Weimar ten years later and performed for him every day at the poet’s request, Goethe presented him with a page from the manuscript of Faust with a touching dedication. By the age of fifteen, Mendelssohn had written many works in various genres and “in the name of Mozart, in the name of Haydn, in the name of old man Bach” Zelter initiated Felix as an “apprentice”. Outstanding composers and performers who appeared at the Mendelssohns’ musical salon in Berlin welcomed the young Felix as one of their own. Soon the overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) brought its sixteen-year-old creator the laurels of immortality: the “apprentice” was now a renowned master.

      The typical image of a Romantic – a revolutionary, an insurgent against authority – had nothing in common with the twentyyear- old (!) Mendelssohn, who imbued Bach’s Matthäuspassion with new life. Or with the grateful pupil who had sought out masses by Allegri, Palestrina, Lotti or Pergolesi in archives and libraries. Or with the conductor who revived Händel’s oratorios in Europe’s musical capitals, and who was the first to perform Schubert’s Symphony in C, Die Grosse, which had been found by Schumann. Or with the organist whom Schumann publicly proclaimed the incomparable heir of the Leipzig cantor: “there can be no greater musical delight than the perception of two-fold art – when one genius embodies another.” Or with the honorary citizen of Leipzig, the founder of the first Conservatoire in Germany…

      The passionate and unrestrained Romantic Hector Berlioz even stated in a letter that Mendelssohn “… loves the dead somewhat too much”. Although it was, first and foremost, Mendelssohn’s particular loyalty to the great teachers, the ability to combine contemporary trends with traditional norms – in a word, the very harmoniousness of ideology that made him a “Classicist” among the Romantics. However, these traits also marked Mendelssohn’s private life, his family, his relationships with friends. Which allowed the composer’s friend the singer and playwright Eduard Devrient to speak of how Mendelssohn lived “the wonderful life of a man who was truly happy and gave happiness to others”.

      In the summer of 1838, when Mendelssohn was directing the Rhein Music Festival in Cologne, he made the first sketches for the Violin Concerto; work continued for six years (1838–1844). The piece, which appears to have taken shape in a single burst of inspiration, took lengthy consideration; the composer sought advice concerning the violin solo from his friend Ferdinand David, an outstanding performer and teacher and Professor at the Leipzig Conservatoire. It was he who performed the premiere of the Concerto in Leipzig on 27 March 1845. The Gewandhausorchester was conducted by Niels Gade. In October, Ferdinand David performed the Concerto once again in Leipzig, this time under the composer. And on 10 November 1845 the Dresden premiere of the Concerto was performed by the fourteen-year-old Joseph Joachim, who had been recommended to Mendelssohn by Schumann. After the premiere Schumann wrote to his friend: “My dear Mendelssohn! With all my heart I was with you again when Joachim performed the Violin Concerto; I cannot criticise such a work after hearing it only once, but I can surrender to it completely. Thus it seemed that an image also intruded itself on my consciousness, which I will not keep from you: Grace, which in a way selflessly gives way to passionate outbursts, as if it were a Muse…”

      * * *

      Eight years later Joachim, already a famed virtuoso, instigated Schumann to compose his Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 131. Sending Schumann the score of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Joachim asked Schumann to follow Beethoven’s example to increase the meagre repertoire of concert violinists, creating “inspired work for their instrument…” (Letter from Joachim dated 2 June 1853.)

      Schumann’s response was immediate. Already on 2–5 September he had sketched the Fantasy, and on 6–7 its instrumentation, writing on 14 September to Joachim: “Writing the Fantasy I thought of you most of all. I am sending it together with this letter; it is my first attempt. You must write me what may be impractical in it. Please also mark out the bowings in the arpeggios, and everywhere else, and then please return me the score for a few days.” Two weeks later, on 28 September Joachim performed the Fantasy at Schumann‘s home in Düsseldorf (three times in a row!) and on 27 October he rehearsed it with an orchestra for the first time. The same evening, on 27 October 1853 the Düsseldorf Allgemeine Musikverein saw the premiere of the Fantasy under the baton of the composer. Sadly this was the last concert conducted by Schumann – he was struck down by a deadly illness which cast a dark gloom over the composer’s last years. On 21 January 1854 Joachim performed the Fantasy at the Concert Hall of the Hannover Hoftheater (the programme also included Schumann’s Symphony in D Minor; Clara Schumann performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in E Flat Major). Schumann heard Joachim and his beloved wife for the last time!

      In contrast to frequently repeated claims that the Fantasy, Op. 131, alongside Schumann’s other late works, bears the stamp of the demise of his gift, it is a brilliant work in concert genre. The Fantasy was the favourite form into which Schumann poured the fruits of his inspiration. The composer even initially called his last symphony (the Fourth, in D Minor) A Symphonic Fantasy. In this truly Romantic form, Schumann was attracted by the freedom of dealing with generally accepted rules and norms.

      The Violin Fantasy is based on three themes that emerge in the introduction. The free treatment of the sonata principle draws the structure of the Fantasy closer to Schumann’s frequently-met fusion of symmetrical threepart form with rondo sonata. The musical dramaturgy is constructed on the contrast of the elegiac A Minor introduction and the C Major, sharply rhythmed theme – a refrain which imbues the entire composition. The celebratory C Major that crowns the Fantasy even allowed Schumann to write in a letter to the publisher that the work “is very lively in character”. Just like Mendelssohn, who was no enthusiast of “piano acrobatics”, Schumann had no inclination to write a “concerto for virtuosi”. All the violin solos, and in particular the well-developed cadenza preceding the coda, are stamped with the mark of free improvisation; the melismas and instrumental “coloraturas” are natural and appear not as decorative adornments, but as organically and naturally flowing musical speech (apropos, to satisfy certain virtuosi, Fritz Kreisler created a free concert version of Schumann’s Fantasy).

      * * *

      The name of Max Bruch (1838–1920) does not resound as loudly as those of Mendelssohn or Schumann in the world of music. But his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, occupies a respectable position in the genealogy of the great Romantic masterpieces.

      Max Bruch was born in the same year that Mendelssohn made the first sketches of his Violin Concerto in E Minor. The premiere of Bruch’s Concerto took place ten years after Schumann’s death. One decade later, Brahm’s famous Concerto for Violin and Orchestra appeared. However, there is one other great musician whose art united the aforementioned violin concerti in a tradition unbroken for a century. His name was Joseph Joachim. On the title page of the score of Bruch’s Violin Concerto there is an inscription: To Joseph Joachim in Friendship.

      The sketches for the Concerto in G Minor date from 1857, when the nineteen-year-old Bruch graduated from the Cologne Conservatoire, where he had studied under Ferdinand Hiller and Carl Reinecke. Aged twenty, Bruch was already teaching musical theory at the Conservatorie. Premieres of his operas, oratorios, symphonies, instrumental concerti, chamber works and vocal cycles followed one after another… Bruch’s chorusal works enjoy particular popularity in Germany. His performing career progressed as successfully as that of teaching. He conducted opera performances and symphonic concerts in towns throughout Germany and abroad. Max Bruch’s students included representatives of various national schools of composition, such outstanding talents of the 20th century as Italian Ottorino Respighi and Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams.

      Interest in the national sources of music and exotic cultures was a natural feature of Romanticism. Bruch’s popular works include Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, the Jewish melody Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, arrangements of Russian and Swedish songs and dances… Contemporaries lavished praise on Bruch’s talent – a fervent Romantic, a first-class and vivid melodist, a genius of refined musical form, an erudite, a brilliant professional. In 1893, the same year as Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Grieg and Boito, he was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Music of Cambridge University.

      The Concerto in G Minor was composed over the years when Bruch was Kappellmeister in Koblenz (1865–1867). In summer 1864 Bruch, planning the Concerto, turned to old sketches. The premiere of the first version of the Concerto in G Minor took place under the baton of the composer on 24 April 1866 in Koblenz at the eighth (last) winter concert of the Musikinstitut in the Assembly hall of the Städtisches Gymnasium (in support of the Protestantic Women’s Association). The soloist at the premiere was Otto von Königslöw.

      However, the composer continued to refine the work. The manuscript of the revised Concerto was sent to Joseph Joachim in the summer of 1866. While editing the score Bruch took the advice of the great violinist (to whom the Concerto is dedicated). Joachim first performed the Concerto in its final form on 7 January 1868 in Bremen. It was soon performed in other cities and, starting with Ferdinand David and Leopold Auer, entered the repertoire of the world’s leading violinists.

      The Concerto has an unusual structure: all the movements are in sonata form. The low rumble of the kettledrums engenders the introduction – the recitative of the violin backed by the orchestra, reminiscent of an epic tale of a rhapsodist. The rhythmically elastic, passionate «takeoff» of the violin solo and the broad, expressively intense melody – both themes of the Allegro moderato develop in a dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, in the passages at times lyrical and elegiac, at times stormy and virtuoso dramatical. The brief solo cadenza of the violin (based on the introduction), interrupted by the passionate voice of the orchestra, flows into the second movement – the divine Adagio, a true pearl which interweaves musical images with a rare beauty. The tensely pulsating rhythm of the introductory bars of the Allegro energico anticipates the bold and proud principal theme of the finale. In its distinct, Hungarian character we can observe a special “compliment” to Joseph Joachim (years later Brahms would do the same with his Violin Concerto). Hymnal features prevail in the image of the second, broad pathetique theme. The Concerto is crowned by an energetic, glittering coda.

      Iosif Raiskin
      Translation: Michael Smith

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847)
        Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op. 64 in E minor
        • 1.I. Allegro molto appassionato12:54
        • 2.II. Andante08:40
        • 3.III. Allegro molto vivace05:36
      • Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
        • 4.Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra op. 131 in C major13:59
      • Max Bruch (1838–1920)
        Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 op. 26 in G minor
        • 5.I. Vorspiel. Allegro moderato08:10
        • 6.II. Adagio08:50
        • 7.III. Finale. Allegro energico07:17
      • Total:01:05:26