Erick Friedman, violin = BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor; LALO: Symphonie espagnole – Erick Friedman, v./ Orch. National de France and Orch. de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Georges Pretre – MeloClassics

Erick Friedman, violin = BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26; LALO: Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21 – Erick Friedman, v./ Orch. National de France and Orch. de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Georges Pretre – MeloClassic MC 2008, 52:15 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

American violin virtuoso and pedagogue Erick Friedman (1939-2004) and I met at the Round Top Festival in Texas, where he served as artist-in-residence and performed periodically with the student orchestra. Of course, between conversations about repertory – particularly about the big three concertos by Mozart – Friedman and I would discuss Jascha Heifetz and the many influences, for good or evil, that great master generated for Friedman’s career. Friedman confessed that the shadow of Heifetz could repel as well as attract possible adherents and contracts.  “If I played like Heifetz, I became a mere clone or puppet. If I played more “individually,” it was because I could not equal the Master.” Isaac Stern, too, raised his ruthless specter in our conversations, since Friedman, like Aaron Rosand, had been slated by Stern for musical oblivion.  Happily, Friedman remains a phenomenon entirely true to himself, and these revived 1964 concerts from the French Radio-Television service remind us how penetrating and lovely a Friedman performance could be.

The 1866 Bruch G Minor Concerto (13 January 1964) resonates cleanly and decisively in the first movement, with strong melodic support from Pretre. Friedman’s top line proves luxuriously sweet and cleanly defined, moving with suave grace back into the palpitating main theme over the tympani. The tempo of the Allegro moderato remains rather brisk, in the manner of Friedman’s other mighty teacher, Nathan Milstein. The quasi-cadenza passages that serve as transitions to the Larghetto maintain an incisive, gypsy flavor, and Pretre adds a lushness to the string line quite infectious. There is a poor edit to the slow movement, which should follow attacca.  Bu Friedman approaches the Larghetto as the heart of the Concerto, and the effect gains a melancholy nostalgia as sincerely breathed as it is rarified. The Finale: Allegro energico enjoys the pungent flavor of incisive attacks and sizzling bow work. Much like Bustabo had with Mengelberg, Friedman digs into the chords with vibrant relish, while the French National strings and tympani deliver their heated response to his electrified figures. In their da capo repetition of the inflamed rondo theme, Friedman’s bouncing bow, spiccato, achieves even more throaty resonance. The coda blazes to a stunning peroration.

While we might lament Freidman’s decision to perform the old-fashioned, four-movement version of Lalo’s 1874 Symphonie espagnole, the reading has its definite merits, marked by the thorough communication between the principals. Friedman had made a sensation with this piece in New York at age fourteen. We may find much in common with the Ruggiero Ricci inscriptions of this piece, naturally responsive to the gypsy flourish and flamboyant sense of Iberian color. The second movement Scherzando: Allegro molto offers Friedman an excellent bravura vehicle in the form of a fine serenade, a seguidilla in startling panoply surrounded by guitar-effects, highlighted by Pretre’s pert attention to jarring entries and punctuated rhythmic cells.  The lovely Andante remains the least “Spanish” movement of the work, rather a dark-hued chorale that “softens” into a folk song whose soaring lyricism Friedman immortalizes. The ever-playful Rondo: Allegro thrives on virtuoso wit and spectacular colors. A palpable affability permeates this collaboration from 1 March 1964, and the Paris audience seizes the opportunity to express their gratitude.

—Gary Lemco

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