Thursday 30 July 2015

Wolf-Ferrari Violin Concerto

Wolf Ferrari Violin Concerto; Benjamin Schmid, Oviedo Filarmonia, Friedrich Haider; Farao Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 23 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Wolf-Ferrari's lyrical, yearning and large scale violin concerto re-discovered

The music of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) has remained on the fringes of the repertoire despite the odd flurry of interest. Born of Italian and German parents, and perpetually torn between the two cultures he is best known for his operas, but this disc from Friedrich Haider and the Oviedo Filarmonia with violinist Benjamin Schmid explores Wolf-Ferrari's Violin Concerto Op.26 "Guila Bustabo in ammirazione", which is paired with a selection of music from the operas, the prelude to Il campiello, the overtures to Le donne duriose and L'amore medico, and the intermezzo to I quatro rusteghi.

The violin concerto was premiered in 1943 by the violinist Guila Bustabo (1916-2002) for whom it was written. Like Wolf-Ferrari, Guila Bustabo was of mixed heritage she was born in America with an Italian father and a Czech mother. For whatever reasons, she seems to have been entirely unconcerned about the issues relating to the war (there are suggestions that she may have temperamentally disliked America or may have been influenced in politics by her mother), so she spent the war years not in America but touring Europe. She met Wolf-Ferrari in 1939 having heard his opera La Dama Boba and the two developed a strong, almost romantic but platonic relationship. The result is the violin concerto which Bustabo premiered in 1943.

Here it is played by the talented young Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid and certainly the violin part of this challenging work holds no terrors for Schmid. The concerto is a big work, lasting some 36 minutes and the solo line has a great many bravura challenges worked into it. Like a concerto such as the Tchaikovsky, the soloist must produce a great deal of singing tone and beautiful line, whilst encompassing no end of technical hurdles. But the rewards when this is achieved are very great. Schmid plays with elegant refined sound and his playing is lyrically expressive at all time, and the virtuoso element are finely folded into the texture of the music. This is playing of real refinement, and never does Schmid overdo the more romantic elements of the concerto, he never throbs.

There are four movements, Fantasia, Romanza, Improvviso, and Rondo Finale and the predominant tone is one of rather intense, lyrical yearning. The Fantasia starts with a fascinating, yearning and somewhat exotic sounding melody on a long cantilena from the solo violin which develops into a a long and highly passionate movement. Wolf-Ferrari's style combines the melodic lyricism of Italy with the German feel for structure and complexity, as if Brahms or Tchaikovsky had been taken to the very south of Italy with a diet of red wine and sunshine. Certainly the music does not partake of any of the isms of the 20th century and has a slightly old-fashioned feel for its time, but we can now appreciate the strength of Wolf-Ferrari's craftsmanship and the sense of inspiration he seems to have found in the young violinist.

The Romanza is again yearning and restless, followed by the Improvviso which starts darkly dramatic and though the tempo increases, there is never a suggestion of a scherzo but we can appreciate Wolf-Ferrari's wonderful use of orchestral textures and the way he creates a dramatic dialogue for soloist and orchestra. The Rondo Finale brings things to a rather perky conclusion, opening like the overture to one of Wolf-Ferrari's operatic comedies. A big, big lyrical cadenza full of reminiscences of earlier movements leads to a brief return to the comedy before the rather conventional ending.

Friedrich Haider and the orchestra pair the concerto with a selection of music from the operas. We start with the hushed prelude from Il campiello, followed by the overture to Le donne curiose. This latter is a more developed piece, a full blown rather traditional operatic overture full of character and pre-figuring the drama to come. The same is true of the overture from L'amore medico and we finish with the lovely intermezzo from I quatro rusteghi. These are performances of real charm, and certainly whet the appetite for further music from the operas.

The set comes with a DVD of a documentary Liebesklarung an eine Geigerin which helps to fill in the back ground to the concerto which has its basis in the strong relationship between the composer and his soloist. The documentary is also on YouTube (see below), and there is also a little taster of the concerto on YouTube.

Wolf-Ferrari's violin concerto is a major discovery and deserves far wider currency. This fine performance should win the piece many friends. Friedrich Haider has a passionate commitment to Wolf-Ferrari's music and here he draws finely expressive playing from the orchestra and in Benjamin Schmid has a soloist who is ideal in his combination of technical skill and intense lyricism.

You can read a Spanish translation of this review on the Oviedo Filarmonia's website.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Prelude from Il Campiello (1936) [3.49]
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Overture from Le donne curiose (1903) [6.45]
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Overture from L'amore medico (1913) [8.02]
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Intermezzo from I quatro rusteghi  (1906) [3.31]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Oviedo Filarmonia
Friedrich Haider (conductor)
Recorded 2009/10 Auditorium Principe Felipe Oviedo

Liebeserklarung an eine Geigerin - documentary about the CD

FARAO CLASSICS B108069 1 CD, 1DVD [58.52, 13.50]

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