Vieuxtemps Violin Concertos Nos 4 & 5
Vieuxtemps’s two best-known violin concertos have never been entirely neglected but I can remember when they were viewed as having little merit other than to demonstrate a violinist’s prowess. Even the wonderful Heifetz recordings (Naxos) appeared with the opening tuttis drastically cut – a big shame in No 4, where it sets the scene so poetically, and in No 5, where much of the cadenza is based on the orchestral introduction.
Here, however, the watchwords are care and respect; the orchestra is beautifully balanced and recorded, Martyn Brabbins’s direction is alert to Vieuxtemps’s delicate romanticism as well as his grand theatrical gestures, and Viviane Hagner, without quite matching Heifetz’s freedom and eloquence, is a most resourceful and spirited advocate. Misha Keylin’s performances (Naxos) are equally animated; but where he relies on heroic stage presence, Hagner introduces more subtle variety and, I think, takes us deeper into the music. Occasionally, too, her account is technically superior, for instance in the hair-raising, slithering diminished-seventh chords in No 4’s finale. Her performance of No 4 is, indeed, especially fine; the Adagio religioso creates a compelling emotional aura and the Scherzo is notable for precision and rhythmic élan.
The Fantasia appassionata, more lightweight than the concertos, still has some typically imaginative touches – the stark two-part texture at the start, the sophisticated orchestration of the concluding Tarantella – and reaches a high-point at the dreamlike Adagio, where the violin duets rapturously with horn and clarinet. As violin music it’s both challenging and grateful, and Hagner makes the most of it.