JOACHIM: Fantasy on Irish Themes; Fantasy on Hungarian Themes; Romance, Op. 2, No. 1; Notturno – Katharina Uhde, violin/ Polish Radio Orchestra Warsaw/ Dennis Friesen-Carper – Soundset Recordings SR 1122 49:01 [www.soundset.com] ****
Austro-Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) maintains his reputation as a fine violinist and quartet leader who eschewed virtuosity for its own sake, and as the esteemed friend and musical confidant of composer Johannes Brahms. As a composer, Joachim has long enjoyed the singular success of his 1857 Hungarian Concerto in D Minor, Op. 11. In 2016, however, Katharina Uhde, a specialist in the work of Joachim, rediscovered two violin fantasias from the earlier 1850s, of which his Irish – really, Scottish – Fantasy (1852) represents his first virtuoso music for violin and orchestra. Uhde edited this and the 1850 Hungarian Fantasy in 2018, and subsequently she has recorded these two works for their debut.
It seems that Scotland rather than Ireland supplied Joachim with tunes for his Fantasy on Irish Themes in D Minor of 1852. The melodies “John Anderson My Joe” and “The Blue Bells of Scotland” illuminate the progression, while an aria, “Nella fatal di Rimini” from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, sneaks in an allusion mid-way, in B Minor. Some scholars cite Mendelssohn as the inspiration for the stentorian chords early, resembling the opening of the oratorio Elijah. The demands of the piece, besides having to make smooth transitions in the flow, lie in the many double-stopped chords from violinist Uhde as well as considerable bariolage technique. The last four minutes enjoy a bright fervor from all participants. Easy and gracious through most of its meanderings, the work will appeal to those who already favor the more affecting suite by Max Bruch that does not bear a misnomer in the title.
The earlier Fantasy on Hungarian Themes in A Minor (1846-50) conforms to the penchant for verbunkos repertory that inhabits the works of Liszt, Brahms, and Hubay. The syntax demands syncopes, augmented seconds, two-bar cadences, and una corda filigree on the D and G strings. Of note, this piece had a performance in Weimar 19 October 1850 under Franz Liszt. The opening of the music, a stately, rather somber march, may reflect the politics of the times, the conflict between Austria and Hungary, which affected Joachim’s own sense of identity. In eight definable sections, the work conforms to a pattern established by Moravian composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst in his Otello Fantasy of 1837. Set as a series of Airs variés, the music proceeds in a seamless fashion according to lights provided by contemporaries Vieuxtemps David, and Sivori, and the later Dancla. As the music progresses, the textures thicken and the speed increases, and the clashing tempos infuse the work with a nervous excitement. The upward suasion of the piece moves into sprightly A Major that hearkens to a Hungary free of outside, Croatian and Bohemian, political agitation.
The Romance in B-flat Major, Op. 2, No. 1 (1849) has a dedication to Moritz Hauptmann, the Leipzig composition teacher. Robert Schumann called the work sehr merkwürdig, curiously worth remembering. The arrangement with orchestra we hear Joachim made in 1900. Essentially pastoral in nature, the music moves into a more ominous G Minor and then to the sun once more, in D Major. The sad episode does return but in G Major before the music concludes, dolce. The present recording marks the debut of the arrangement with orchestra.
Joachim composed his Notturno in 1874, but withheld the piece for others’ performance, having labeled it “a somewhat monotonous Adagio of ten minutes’ length which would hardly interest an audience.” The influence of the scoring the Brahms A Major Serenade, Op. 16 bears on the dark tenor of the work and its lack of tutti strings. Like Brahms (and Schumann), Joachim invests a personal motto into the progress F#-A-E, that in Brahms signifies frei aber einsam, free but lonely. Joachim proves no less fond of G#-E-A, a cypher for an inamorata, Gisela von Arnim, so the slur lines of legato phrasing carry an especial pathos. The official dedication of the work went to Gabriele von Wendheim, Joachim’s student in Hanover from 1858 onward. This performance, lasting a bit under ten minutes, is not so monotonous as the finicky composer imagined.
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