BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61 – Henryk Szeryng, violin; French National Radio-Television Orchestra/ Carl Schuricht – Forgotten Records FR 2061 (76:49) [www.forgottenrecords.com] *****:
Released earlier this year, 2022, this album presents two stellar, musical personalities in live concert, each a master of his idiom. Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) embodied the Franco-Belgian violin school, his Polish ancestry notwithstanding. The strong, broad tone, light but continuous vibrato, and elegance of singing line all derived from the influence of Giovanni Battista Viotti (1735-1824), whose Paris debut in 1782 revolutionized the French approach to violin practice. Balance and proportion became operative factors in the discipline imposed on practitioners of the Franco-Belgian style, of which Jacques Thibaud and Henryk Szeryng represented major disciples.
Conductor Carl Schuricht (1880-1967), born in Danzig, came from a musical family that soon discovered the boy’s gifts in music in piano, violin, and composition. A pupil of both Humperdinck and Reger, Schuricht encountered the music of Mahler in 1906, when the composer led a performance of his Symphony No. 6. Schuricht’s potent efforts in Wiesbaden gained him notice by the Berlin Philharmonic in 1921, an association that endured even beyond the dogmatic, repressive strictures of National Socialism. Schuricht had been scheduled to assume the post of Director of the Dresden Philharmonic, but the extension of the war and his own, anti-Nazi sympathies marked him for arrest by the Gestapo, and he fled to Switzerland, where he often conducted L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Schuricht was the first recipient of the Gold Medal of the Internationale Gustav Mahler-Gesellschaft in Vienna in 1958. Largely under-appreciated and under-represented with the superior orchestral ensembles, Schuricht did make music with the Vienna Philharmonic and with Radio Stuttgart to produce a worthy legacy, notable for its consistent intensity and aristocratic nobility, characteristics no less attributable to his soloist in the Brahms Concerto (rec. 21 September 1955), Henryk Szeryng.
The performance of the Brahms, from the outset, establishes a clean, athletic line, one marked by the utter security of participants long studied in the Brahms tradition. Szeryng, too, exhibits from his spectacular opening sequence, virtually in gypsy style, a thorough control of his entry up until the soaring statement of the main theme. The luxurious, even reverie-like passages unfold with wonderful support from woodwinds and horn, the orchestral interludes richly symphonic. Szeryng plays the familiar cadenza by Fritz Kreisler with a fervent authority that refreshes its sense of vigor. No credit appears for the French orchestra oboe player, but his lengthy, winning Adagio melody has often provoked the misbegotten quote from Sarasate that the Brahms Concerto was written “against” the violin. The gypsy spirit reins in the wonderful final movement, a true Allegro giocoso, relishing brisk attacks from Szeryng and thunderous declamations from Schuricht. The music transforms, prior to the coda, into a somber march, but only so Szeryng can exquisitely transport us to a triumphant conclusion that allows the otherwise subdued audience to erupt in appreciation.
The remainder of this preserved concert belongs to Robert Schumann’s 1845 Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61, a product of dark moments in the composer’s life, though the music sublimates much of the personal misfortune into beauty. The distant, pp trumpet calls that open Schumann’s symphony enjoy a veiled enticement that reminds me that, in my experience, four other conductors exert the same authority in this music: Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Maderna, Giuseppe Sinopoli, and Leonard Bernstein. The dotted rhythm having increased, the music breaks out into a flaring, triple meter Allegro non troppo, that maintains the sense of trumpet fanfare. The force of the double-dotted rhythms gains an added vitality from the fervent string line and tympanic contributions Schuricht elicits from his French players.
Like the Beethoven 9th, the music proceeds into a second movement Scherzo: Allegro vivace interrupted by two trio sections. This catapulted music moves like an etude for string auditions, while the first of the trios capitalizes on woodwind symmetries. The second of the trios demonstrates Schumann’s predilection for counterpoint. Schuricht draws a slow, sighing line for this polyphonic expression of Romantic yearning. The coda alludes quite openly to the music’s opening fanfare motif. The heart of this fine composition lies in the Adagio espessivo, surely in construct and deep melancholy effected by way of dropping intervals and an embittered trill, a model for Gustav Mahler. Schuricht imposes a funereal pathos from this music, the subdued winds’ adding to the valediction of the occasion. Schumann then proceeds to another, extended moment of polyphony that combines his two main impulses, song and lamentation, before returning to the throes of his restrained outcry.
The finale, Allegro molto vivace, once more steals pages from Beethoven’s 9th, opening with a potent, upward scale and then quoting from prior movements. The oboe quotes from the Beethoven song cycle An die ferne geliebte, which had appeared in Schumann’s own, impassioned C Major Fantasie. The dark thoughts of the song-cycle play in dramatic contrast to the essentially jubilant character of the last movement, which Schuricht urges with blistering intensity, the French trumpets in full glory. The opening fanfare motif has now surrounded itself with various, dramatic and lyrical impulses, cleverly combined. A pregnant pause ensues, and the oboe reappears with a plaintive tune, a hybrid song-march, that will crescendo into a hymn of praise. Certainly, Schuricht’s own veneration of Beethoven has found in this awesome symphony a kindred spirit that allows his musical forces full, heroic rein, and the audience responds in kind.
Please see Forgotten Records for more information: