SCHUMANN Violin Concertos
If asked to sum up the impact of Schumann’s late concertante works for solo strings and orchestra, I would say that ‘courage in the face of overwhelming odds’ is a pretty accurate description. What makes that courage all the more affecting is that it doesn’t sideline deep emotion, as is obvious from the slow movements of both concertos and the opening sighs of the variegated Phantasie. Nor, strictly speaking, is it necessary to know that beyond the Violin Concerto (Schumann’s last completed work with orchestra) lay the tragedy of neurosyphilis and madness. Schumann’s poignant late essays make for an absorbing threesome and Baiba Skride is their ideal exponent, her overall approach limpid, quietly resilient and tonally alluring, her handling of the slower music heartbreakingly poignant. John Storgårds’s conducting adds a crucial further dimension, not only because he consistently refuses to push the pace (these fragile late flowerings will not be hurried) but because a combination of weight, muscularity and an easy musical flow allows full access to each score’s expressive core. The defiant opening of the Violin Concerto is a case in point. And, while Skride emotes less overtly than some of her feted forebears (Menuhin, Kulenkampff, Szeryng), her more gently voiced interpretation brings with it untold musical benefits, also to the transcribed Cello Concerto which, if it is going to succeed, needs to sound as far removed from the original as possible.
Rival CDs of all three works by Anthony Marwood and by Lena Neudauer (plus three shorter pieces orchestrated from works for piano four hands), although excellent, leave a less indelible impression. Nor should we forget versions of the Violin Concerto by Zehetmair, Capuçon, Zimmermann and Kremer. The beauty of this disc is that Skride, Storgårds and the excellent Danish orchestra make the music sound utterly new, so that even if you own one or more of the others you still stand to learn a great deal from listening to it. The mellow but transparent sound quality suits the music.