BRAHMS / BRUCH: Violin Concertos (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser/ Takako Nishizaki) (Naxos: 8.550195)
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Max Bruch (1838 - 1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 26
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77Cadenza by Fritz Kreisler
Max Bruch's G Minor Violin Concerto
continues to enjoy wide popularity, while much of his music remains unknown tomodern audiences. He was born in Cologne in 1838, the son of a Governmentofficial and a mother who was well known as a teacher and singer. He washimself to enjoy a reputation as both conductor and composer, and was for atime conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, before taking up asimilar position in Breslau. From 1891 until his retirement in 1910 he wasentrusted with the composition master-class at the Berlin Musikhochschule, anappointment of considerable prestige.
The G Minor Violin Concerto avoidstraditional form, its first movement a Prelude that opens with aquasi-improvisatory passage for the soloist. There is a second, contrastingtheme in B flat major, and some development of this material, before thesecond, slow movement, which follows without a break. Here the violin openswith a melody of great emotional intensity, in the key of E flat, providing themain source of thematic material for the movement.
A brief linking passage leads us safelyto the finale in the key of G major and the entry of the solo violin in a moodthat must remind us of the last movement of the concerto by Brahms. Thisopening forms the principal theme of the movement, although furtheropportunities are provided for the soloist, with rapid passage-work as well asa typically forceful romantic theme.
Bruch showed his concerto to Brahms andplayed it through to him, with a great deal of enthusiasm and sweat. The oldercomposer, not known for his tact, stood up when the performance was over andwalking over to the piano took a sheet of the score, feeling it between fingersand thumb and remarking \Where do you buy your music paper? First rate!" Theconcerto has impressed other listeners rather more deeply.
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in1833, the son of a double bass player and a woman thirteen years his senior,who kept a small haberdasher's shop. It seemed at first as if he might followhis father's relatively humble profession as an orchestral player, but hisability as a pianist and as a composer, the latter ability fostered by hisgenerous teacher Marxsen, suggested higher ambitions. After a period of hackwork, teaching and playing in dockside taverns, he had his first significantsuccess in a tour with the Hungarian violinist Remenyi in 1853. Friendship withthe violinist Joachim led to an unproductive visit to Liszt in Weimar and to amore fruitful meeting with Schumann, now established in Duesseldorf as directorof music. It was Schumann who detected in the young musician a successor toBeethoven, a forbidding prognostication. Brahms was to continue hisrelationship with Clara Schumann after her husband's breakdown and subsequentdeath in 1856.
It was not until 1864 that Brahms settledfinally in Vienna, having failed to realise his first ambition for recognitionin his native Hamburg. In Vienna he became an established figure, known for histactlessness and occasional rudeness, but proclaimed by his friends thechampion of pure music against the eccentricities of Liszt and Wagner, a rolewhich his four great symphonies did much to reinforce. He died of cancer inApril, 1897, at the age of 64.
Brahms completed his Violin Concerto
in 1878 and dedicated it to his friend Joseph Joachim. The relationship withthe violinist was later to suffer through the composer's lack of tact, when hetried to intervene in a dispute between Joachim and his wife, the singer AmalieJoachim, who brought evidence of her husband's faults of character in a letterwritten to her by Brahms. The breach was in part repaired by the latercomposition of the Double Concerto for violin and cello in 1887, a peaceoffering.
Following his usual custom, Brahms workedon the Violin Concerto during his summer holiday at Poertschach, wherein 1877 he had started his Second Symphony. The first performance of the workwas given in Leipzig on New Year's Day, 1879, with Joachim as the soloist. Theconcerto combines two complementary aspects of the composer, that of the artistconcerned with the great and serious, as a contemporary critic put it, and thatof the lyrical composer of songs. As always Brahms was critical of his ownwork, and the concerto, long promised, had been the subject of his usual doubtsand hesitations. Originally four movements had been planned, but in the end thetwo middle movements were replaced by the present Adagio, music that Brahmsdescribed as feeble but that pleased Joachim as much as it has always pleasedaudiences.
The first movement opens with anorchestral exposition in which the first subject is incompletely presented inthe initial bars. Its full appearance is entrusted to the soloist, after theorchestra has offered a second subject and other themes that will later seememinently well suited to the solo violin. The actual entry of the soloist andthe approach to it must remind us of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, withits rather longer orchestral exposition that had so taxed the patience ofViennese audiences seventy years earlier. The cadenza Brahms left to Joachim,whose advice on this and other matters he was willing to heed. In thisrecording, Takako Nishisaki plays the cadenza by Fritz Kreisler. The slowmovement is splendidly lyrical, based on a melody of great beauty, which isexpanded and developed by the soloist and the orchestra, dying away before thevigorous opening of the Hungarian-style finale. This, in rondo form, is ofgreat variety, intervening episodes providing a contrast with the energeticprincipal theme, leading to a conclusion of mounting excitement.
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finestviolinist. After studying with her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became thefirst student of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method ofteaching children to play the violin. Subsequently she went to Japan's famousToho School of Music and to Juilliard in the United States, where she studiedwith Joseph Fuchs.
Takako Nishizaki won Second Prize in the1964 Leventritt International Competition (First Prize went to Itzhak Perlman),First Prize in the 1967 Juilliard Concerto Competition (with Japan's NobukoImai, the well-known viola-player), and several awards in lesser competitions.
She was only the second student at Juilliard, after Michael Rabin, to win herschool's coveted Fritz Kreisler Scholarship, established by the great violinisthimself.
Takako Nishizaki is one of the mostfrequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded ten volumesof her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violinconcertos, among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin, dedicated to her, and agrowing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos, among themconcertos by Spohr, De Beriot, Cui, Respighi, Rubinstein and Joachim. For Naxosshe has recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Violin ConcertosNos. 3 and 5, Sonatas by Mozart and the Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky,Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms concertos.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra hasbenefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. Theseincluded Vaclav Talich (1949 - 1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. TheCzech conductor Li