BERG Violin Concerto

Author: 
Peter Quantrill

BERG Violin Concerto

  • Romances, No. 2 in F, Op. 50 (c1798)
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, 'To the memory of an angel'
  • Fantasiestücke
  • Hebrew Melodies

No explanation is offered in the booklet for the belated release of these recordings from the early 1990s and perhaps none is needed, for Zukerman’s soaring sense of line and golden tone are ample justifications in themselves, more eloquent than any guarded tale of record-company politics. Beethoven’s F major Romance is inflated to Brahmsian dimensions by a plushly upholstered accompaniment from what sounds like a full-strength London Philharmonic: its gently rolling momentum is more peaceably maintained by Zukerman’s earlier recording (Philips, 11/87) where he directs the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from the violin.

The sharp contours of Berg’s Concerto are not so much ironed out as rounded off by Zukerman, with Mehta an observant and willing accomplice; so too the CBS engineers, who tuck the more Expressionist details of Berg’s orchestration away, if not out of hearing then out of mind. Intimacy and violence are both in short supply. You would be hard-pressed to grasp even from what should be the explosive start to the second part that the concerto is the instrumental sister to Lulu rather than Das Lied von der Erde; it often rewards a balance struck between Romantically inclined soloist and incisive conductor, and again Zukerman’s earlier recording (this time with Pierre Boulez – CBS/Sony, 10/86) provides the model of a beating heart within a glinting suit of armour.

The second disc has more to offer. Brahms is in the room again, this time not as uninvited guest but welcome host to recital works with a charm as unaffected as Zukerman’s portamento. The central section of Robert Fuchs’s Op 82 No 1 is unthinkable without the examples of Brahms’s vocal and instrumental Regenlieder, and if the remaining Fantasiestücke of this selection are hardly less indebted, especially in the harmony of their piano parts, to the master’s Hungarian dances, intermezzos and so on, they are written from the inside out, never a moment too long, and caught on the wing here not only by Zukerman’s unfailing cantabile but also by Marc Neikrug’s alertly sprung accompaniments.

The 24-year-old Joachim had met Brahms for the first time only two years before writing these Hebrew Melodies, which sing with a personal if rather unrelieved contralto. Zukerman and his viola are placed further from the microphones than his violin in the Fuchs, and he is slower, especially in No 3, than any other comparative version, but uses the space to advantage. No 2 is in C minor, marked Grave, but a true Nigun in all but name.

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