Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series is in full swing, and this latest instalment is a winner. One never stops exploring music and although none of the pieces here are claimed as a first recording they are all new to me. I am delighted to make their acquaintance.
Eduard Lassen (1830-1904), a Copenhagen gentleman, completed his Violin Concerto in 1888. Nicely expressive from the off, rather gallant if purposeful, certainly charged with ardour, it’s not long before Linus Roth enters, sweetly lyrical. This isn’t a flashy Concerto (no cadenzas), rather it creates an impression through heartfelt sentiment and a richness of expression that makes its neglect hard to fathom. There’s no wallowing though, for there is a sense of direction and purpose, and the opening movement’s Allegro moderato marking is well-judged, capturing the music’s Classical leaning and elegance. The lovely, lilting slow movement is suitably cantabile – a bit of a barcarolle (a close cousin to the middle movement of Saint-Saëns’s B-minor Violin Concerto, if with Lassen gradually introducing a range of exotic twangs) – and, following such charm, closing duskily, the dance-like Finale is perky and enjoyably unpredictable, the violinist given greater demonstration, seized upon with relish by Linus Roth.
Of equal distinction (and length, thirty-four minutes here) is the Violin Concerto by Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917), born in the Grand Duchy of Posen (then a province of Prussia, today Poznań in Poland), the elder brother of pianist Xaver. As much a professor (he held positions in Berlin and New York) as a composer, Ludwig Philipp’s pupils included Otto Klemperer, José Vianna da Motta and Oskar Fried, and his catalogue embraces a couple of Symphonies, an opera, and much chamber music. His Violin Concerto (1894) is a fine achievement, the soloist playing from the off, the music engaging and skilful, succinct yet rhapsodising in the first movement, darkly brooding if generous of heart in the slow one, intimate with a personable hand held out to shake, and with a Finale that spins and jollies along – with gypsy inflections – without looking to put the violinist on a pedestal (the art here is for the player to conceal the technical challenges) – like Lassen, Scharwenka doesn’t write for effect, and he also eschews cadenzas.
Which leaves the Violin Concerto by Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) and a return to Copenhagen. This might be the most-recent music in this collection (1943-44) but here is a composer without category, pastiche a part of his creative armoury, on this occasion something nineteenth-century (only the use of a piano as part of the scoring betrays a later period), although it would also pass for the autumnal pieces that Richard Strauss was also writing during World War Two and in its aftermath. Over ten minutes much happens, not least a style-hopping composer as quixotic quick-change artist; the listener’s ears need to be on full flap for each second to catch all the beguiling invention.
Throughout, Linus Roth is the master of his craft, at-one with the three Concertos, and benefitting from alert and sympathetic support from Antony Hermus and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, all rounded by Andrew Keener’s exemplary production, Simon Eadon’s first-class sound and an informative booklet note.