Romantic Violin Concertos
15 August 2009
Three rare Romantic violin concertos from Denmark make refreshing listening in this new SACD release from DaCapo. Niels Gade (1817-1890), a forebear of Langgaard, as his son Axel was married to Langgaard's aunt, wrote just the one concerto. It had an illustrious start, written as a Christmas present for Joachim who gave the first performance in Berlin in 1881, and was added to several important violinists' repertoire at the time. However, it went quickly out of fashion, resurfacing only recently, despite the beauty in the writing. The first movement marked con fuoco remains well-behaved, the second is a relaxed Romanze, and the last a scherzando with a light gossamer feel to it. The temperature of the writing remains lower than that of Mendelssohn, and its depth less than Brahms, but on its own terms it makes a rewarding half hour, especially when played with tone as beautiful as Christina Åstrand conjures from her instrument.
Even more ravishing is the concerto by Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller (1850-1926) written in 1902, his first attempt at this form. It was first performed by the Joachim pupil and son of composer of the Gade concerto, Axel Gade in 1904. Like Gade's, this concerto has been something of a wallflower and has gathered similar dismissive comments from writers over the years. The first movement opens quite majestically, developing into dance-like themes with extended melodies, and is written in sonata-form. The second movement, like some other Scandinavian music of the period, is in debt to Grieg, and none the worse for that. The last movement is an energetic one, allowing the soloist to display technique as well as musicianship.
Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), the composer of sixteen symphonies is various styles, reviewed here, wrote his single violin concerto in 1943 but this had to wait until 1968 for its first performance. Langgaard's eccentric view of the world and music produced a sheaf of interesting but neglected works; in a single movement and lasting about ten minutes, the concerto mixes the composer's looking back to lush romanticism with later idioms and incorporates a significant part for piano in the score.
All three concertos are beautifully executed by Christina Åstrand who shows off the upper register of her instrument with a lovely purity of both tone and intonation. She and the conductor John Storgårds convey the structure of these pieces with attention to long line, and the Tampere Philharmonic accompanies with sensitivity - essential if pieces of this calibre are to have chance of success. The recording quality is full-sounding, the ample acoustic of the Tampere concert hall just occasionally clouding detail, a fault in the right direction as all of this music needs room to breathe, and both surround and stereo programmes are a credit to the engineer.