Brahms; Joachim Violin Concertos
In 1861, 17 years before Brahms produced his masterpiece in the genre, Joseph Joachim as a young virtuoso wrote his D minor Violin Concerto, In the Hungarian Style. He would later help to perfect the solo part of his friend’s work, but in his own concerto the solo part is if anything even more formidable, one reason – suggested in the New Grove Dictionary – that it has fallen out of the repertory.
It makes a pointful coupling to have both works in a two-for-the-price-of-one package, even if the sheer memorability of the Brahms inevitably shows up Joachim. This account of the Brahms starts unpromisingly with a stodgy account of the long opening tutti, with lacklustre playing from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Carlos Kalmar.
But then, the moment the soloist enters, the atmosphere is instantly transformed, for Rachel Barton is have a magnetically imaginative artist, spontaneously expressive in her rubato, who makes every phrase sound fresh. Technically, too, she shows complete mastery; I am not surprised to find her using at the end of the movement her own formidably demanding and expansive cadenza. The disc then includes as a bonus track the usual Joachim cadenza leading into the lovely tender coda, though the listing on my review disc has the alternative cadenzas labelled the wrong way round. The slow movement with its long orchestral introduction and oboe solo follows a similar pattern to the first, square and unimaginative until the solo violin enters, when all is transformed. The finale is vigorous and sparkling.
In the Joachim Concerto – even longer than the Brahms – Barton is just as compelling, fiery in the bravura passages, tenderly expressive in the many lyrical moments, with the Hungarian flavour idiomatically brought out in her shaping of phrases and pointing of rhythm, not least in the Hungarian dance of the finale, precursor of Brahms’s Hungarian-flavoured finale. A version by Elmar Oliveira, although out of the catalogue at the moment, has warmer, stronger orchestral playing, the LPO under Leon Botstein, but a consistently less compelling contribution from the soloist.