BEETHOVEN & BRUCH Violin Concertos – Accardo & Masur – Pentatone

Accardo and Masur combine for splendid work in pillars of the violin concerto repertory.

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in g, Op. 26 – Salvatore Accardo, violin/ Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/ Kurt Masur – Pentatone RQR multichannel (4.0) SACD PTC 5186 237, 71:22 (10/21/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Italian virtuoso violinist Salvatore Accardo (b. 1941) still reigns as a recognized “heir” to Niccolo Paganni, especially given his recorded survey of the six Paganini concertos with Charles Dutoit. Accardo and Kurt Masur recorded the present (Philips) coupling of the Beethoven Concerto and the First Bruch Concerto in 1977-1978, the latter a particularly happy rendition since conductor Masur (1927-2015) had immersed himself in much of Bruch’s symphonic repertory, besides. The Beethoven Concerto receives a gentle, lyric, Apollinian approach, to my mind much in the tradition of splendid rendition Oistrakh and Cluytens made for EMI. Nothing of the expansive, first movement Allegro ma non troppo feels rushed: the phrase arches evolve lustrously, with seamless attention to the rhythmic pulse over which the violin weaves its beguiling tapestry, sempre perdendosi, forgetting itself. When Masur requires a more monolithic effect, the Gewandhaus certainly swells to the occasion, but without histrionics. What little rubato Accardo applies insinuates itself artfully, with only touches of personal color to augment the sweet, cantabile security he establishes in the most silken tones. Late in the movement, the scalar blend of violin and bassoon proves enchanted. With the recapitulation the two principals seem intent to create a fine web of nuances, since by now we’d become quite hypnotized by the inter-related themes and motifs. After a luxurious, elaborately, razor-honed cadenza, the orchestra and Accardo deftly merge in ravishing colors – no less augmented by the Gewandhaus bassoon – to a decisive coda.

The theme-and-variations Larghetto allows the Gewandhaus horns and winds their moment in the sunny scheme. An unruffled meditation, occasionally interrupted by a kind of solo recitative, the movement plays out – with its muted strings – in an atmosphere of easy rapture. The fourth variation achieves the character of a folk song, and Accardo’s holds the notes as timeless gems dispersed to us in grand magnanimity. The sense of idyllic reflection evaporates with the loud chords of the strings, and violin and woodwinds enter the joyful Rondo with facile grace, a leisurely romp in imaginative discourse. Accardo first plays against a hunting-motif that bursts forth into a peasant dance. The animated zest for life has a complementary nobility of expression that permits Homeric humor without vulgarity. We become well aware of the bassoon’s capacity for color and lyrical expression. With Accardo’s plucked entry, the hunting aspect of the music assumes a more forceful demeanor, and Accardo’s attacks become even more incisively pointed. The long and elegant coda testifies to Beethoven’s fertile imagination and textural resources, taking its own cue from the spiky edge of Accardo’s cadenza and propelling itself in a wondrous series of color curlicues.
The g minor Concerto (1868) of Max Bruch hardly needs a “background check,” and each auditor has his own store of classic renditions, likely starting from such luminaries as Heifetz, Kreisler, and Menuhin.  Accardo and Masur achieve that happy measure of driven passion and aerial lyricism that spurs the opening Vorspiel forward.  Accardo’s wonderful penchant for spectacular spiccato effects does him proud, as do his sterling shifts of registration. The explosive orchestral tuttis remind us how much Mendelssohn and Bruch imbibed into his musical style. Lovely woodwind playing invites the violin to the abbreviated recapitulation, with its pseudo-cadenza and urgent orchestral transition into the exalted Adagio. We might recall – in the midst of the haunted atmosphere our principals create – that much of the violin tissue came from advice from the Romantic virtuoso Joseph Joachim, who had deterred the composer from designating the work as a “fantasia.” The exhilarated gypsy Finale: (Allegro energico) has had incandescent renderings from Heifetz, Rabin, Taschner, and Oistrakh, From the stirring orchestral tremolo opening to Accardo’s savage entry and beyond, the whole performance here bristles with an electric energy, as required. The Gewandhaus players seem to relish each ritornello as another opportunity to jab at the skies.

The sound remastering of the Philips original four-channel recording by Polyhymnia International (originally for quad LP, but the technology was not up to it). gives us penetrating realizations of two masterpieces whose warm ambiance will bring us back to this disc time and again.

—Gary Lemco

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