BERG: Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 – Isabelle Faust, violin/ Orchestra Mozart/ Claudio Abbado – Harmonia mundi HMC 902105, 68:58 ****:
Recorded in November 2010 at the Auditorio Manzoni, Bologna, Italy, this disc juxtaposes two divergent trends in music, beginning with Alban Berg’s 1935 unique approach to the Schoenberg aesthetic in twelve tones from an essentially lyrical point of view. Dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, who died 22 April 1935 at age eighteen, the Concerto assumes the mantle of Schubert, perceiving Death both as adversary and deliverer, dreadful foe and esteemed releaser of the soul into higher mysteries. Despite its stylistic hybridization, the Concerto emerges as a Romantic Requiem for Manon, a union of diatonic and dodecaphonic opposites tied together in a unique circle of thirds and fifths: G Minor, D Major, A Minor, and E Major separated by an interval of a fifth extended by three conjunct notes. Within this intricate labyrinth Berg inserts two recognizable melodies, a Carinthian folk tune in the last section of movement one; and a Lutheran chorale, Es ist genug: Herr, wenn es dir gefaellt. . .from Bach’s Cantata 60, in the concluding Adagio.
It would appear that violinist Isabelle Faust and conductor Claudio Abbado “conspired” to make the most beautiful rendition of the Berg Concerto they could, since every note , each phrase, enjoys a roundness and vibrant articulation that we might easily ascribe, in the orchestra part alone, to Herbert von Karajan. Faust exploits the concerto’s alternately parlando and bravura filigree to full advantage of her extraordinary 1704 Stradivarius, nicknamed “La Belle au bois dormant.” The innate architectural unity of conception stands out, as does the melancholy beauty of the line, despite its occasional disruption by the fierce ironies of fortune. Kudos to many of Orchestra Mozart’s principals, such as harp Nabila Chajai; and horns Alessio Allegrini, Giuseppe Russo, Jose Castello, and Geremia Iezzi. Indeed, the performance achieves a palpable radiance rare even among the more distinguished inscriptions by such luminaries as Krasner, Grumiaux, and Ferras.
The Beethoven Violin Concerto falls more within the traditional canon of interpretation, though we must applaud Faust’s sweet lyricism and vivid, accurate intonation. Abbado leads a delicately etched series of figures in strings and woodwinds, and the timpani work by Robert Kendell must receive its due, setting the acoustical contrast between percussive and rhythmic elements and the Dionysian melodic ethos, which Beethoven reminds us must be played “sempre perdendosi,” always with a sense of forgetting oneself. The warm liquid fire Faust brings to her fluid runs and half steps certainly corresponds to the long-lined majesty we know in this concerto from Milstein and Oistrakh, Haendel and Wicks. Faust’s’s use of the Beethoven cadenza with timpani adds that bravura aspect, a touch of Paganini, to the mix. The G Major Larghetto becomes even more intimate, if possible, a violin concerto here conceived as a sonata da chiesa in the form of a theme and variations. After a transitional cadenza, the Rondo: allegro hustles by, interrupted by a small digression by Faust, to renew itself with verve and elastic vim. The work between Faust and bassoon solo Guilhaume Santana charms, as had Klaus Lohrer’s contrabassoon captivated us in the Berg. If Beethoven’s Rondo takes its spirit from a peasant dance, it achieves an aristocratic grandeur by way of Faust and Abbado. One more bravura cadenza in rising half steps and elongated trill from Faust; and then the strings insinuate the basic rhythm, and we canter and gallop to a lovely pastoral series of colors for the coda. Rare and well-done, shall we say?
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