Antje Weithaas: Schumann Violin Concerto

review schumann x1 cong

This was one of Schumann’s last major compositions, and should perhaps be called “the doomed”. It remained more or less unknown for more than 80 years after it was written, because violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom it was composed, suspected it revealed the composer’s madness (bipolar, probably).

Then, as the sleeve notes explain, it was wheeled out for a premier by the Nazis as ideal music for the new age, replacing the violin concerto of Jewish boy Mendelssohn; Yehudi Menuhin was meant to play at the belated world premiere in 1937, but he was rejected on obvious grounds. (He performed an alternative version in the US at the same time, which the Germans tried to stop). Because of its Nazi links, no fault of the composer, the newly-unearthed piece then fell out of favour until this century.

If Schumann was bipolar, there’s no real signs in the music, though it is perhaps a little maudlin — the sleeve notes say the violin plays unusually low, making it dark. The violin is to the fore but it’s very much of the orchestra, and while the sleeve notes stress the difficulty for the violinist, there are no solos to take centre stage. The second movement is slower, the surrounding movements faster.

Brahms’ Double Concerto completes the programme (though it’s longer than the Schumann) and the sleeve again explains that the musicians are more connected than being just soloists and orchestra. This is not the only link to Schumann — Brahms had fallen out with violinist Joachim and the music contains several peace offerings to his old chum.

Both pieces are easy to listen to, the work of composers who, while progressive, had to make a living, although the “overly austere” Brahms initially confused audiences when it first appeared.

Not an essential programme but a solid one, to listen to and enjoy.

The NDR Radiophilharmonie play, with Andrew Manze conducting; Weithaas is joined by Maximilian Hornung (cello).

Out now on CPO, 555172-2.

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