Tuesday, 30 July 2019

The Romantic Violin Concerto - Linus Roth in Lassen, Scharwenka, Langgaard

Hyperion - The Romantic VIolin Concerto - Lassen, Scharwenka, Langgaard
The Romantic Violin Concerto - Eduard Lassen, Philipp Scharwenka, Rued Langgaard; Linus Roth, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Hermus; Hyperion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 July 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
From the fringes of the tradition, three violin concertos by composers from Copenhagen and from Prussia

This edition of Hyperion's The Romantic Violin Concerto series is the 22nd and features three composers who, whilst writing within the Austro-German symphonic tradition, might be said to have their origins on the fringes of it - Eduard Lassen, born in Copenhagen, Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka, born in the Grand Duchy of Posen, now Poznan in Poland but then in Prussia, and Rued Langgaard, born in Copenhagen.

So on this disc from Hyperion, violinist Linus Roth plays Eduard Lassen's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 87, (Ludwig) Philipp Scharwenka's Violin Concerto in G major, Op. 95 and Rued Langgaard's Violin Concerto, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Antony Hermus who has been named as Opera North's principal guest conductor from 2019/20.

Eduard Lassen was born in Copenhagen but trained at the Brussels Conservatoire and developed a reputation as a conductor. Liszt recommended Lassen to succeed him in Weimar in 1858 where Lassen was responsible for the opera house and court orchestra until he retired in 1895. From 1889 to 1894 his assistant was the young Richard Strauss. Though he had some success with his music for Goethe's Faust, his operas had only moderate success and only his songs have had much modern currency. His violin concerto was written in 1888, premiered by the Czech violinist Karel Halíř (who would be the soloist in the premiere of the revised version of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in 1905.

To put him into context, Lassen was 3 years older than Brahms and his concerto came ten years after that of Brahms. The introduction to the Allegro Moderato first movement is positively Brahmsian but when the solo violin comes in one immediately thinks of Mendelssohn. A very lyrical work, Linus Roth sings the solo line beautifully and Lassen brings some imaginative touches into the writing. The second movement, Andante cantabile is intimate and graceful, perhaps with a more Scandinavian feel and some of Lassen's interesting solo violin writing might conceivably be inspired by folk-fiddling. The lively final movement is a dance, perhaps evoking Brahms and Bruch.

Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka, the elder brother of the virtuoso pianist Xaver Scharwenka, was born in the Duchy of Posen and studied in Berlin where he became director of the conservatory founded by his brother, and his pupils would include Otto Klemperer.

Scharwenka wrote two symphonies, an opera and chamber music, which can still be heard. His violin concerto was written in 1894. It starts with a vigorous Allegro where the writing hints at Bruch and Tchaikovsky (whose concerto premiered in 1878). It is an elegant piece, and for all the various influences the music has a distinctive character of its own. The slow movement Andante tranquillo has a more Romantic feel, intimate and tender. The lively Allegro non tango finale makes on think of Dvorak for its combination of Brahmsian elements with folk influences.

Rued Langgaard is much more recent that the previous two composers. Born in Copenhagen in 1893, he studied briefly with Carl Nielsen but seems to have been a somewhat troubled and complex figure. A visionary who seemed to have not part in the Danish cultural establishment, he composed 16 symphonies, seven string quartets, an opera, chamber music and more. His compositions have had more success on disc than in the concert hall. His violin concerto is a single movement work composed whilst on holiday in July 1943, though it was not premiered until 1968 by Danish Radio.

The work has little hint of Langgaard's complexities or the events of World War II. The concerto is very nostalgic, and rather recalls Richard Strauss' writing in Ariadne auf Naxos. It is an ingratiating piece, with much delicate writing and, most intriguingly, an obbligato piano part.

You feel that all three works on this disc deserve greater exposure, and they receive superb championship from Linus Roth, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Antony Hermus. Roth's performances are beautifully elegant with lovely sung lines and some dazzling bravura moments, with Antony Hermus and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra making fine partners.

Eduard Lassen (1830-1904) - Violin Concerto in D major Op.87 (1888) [33.05]
Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) - Violin Concerto in G major Op.95 (1894) [33.57]
Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) - Violin Concerto BVN289 (1943/44) [9.35]
Linus Roth (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Antony Hermus (conductor)
Recorded in City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, 20-22 June 2018
HYPERION CDA68268 1CD [76.39]
Available from Amazon.

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