Wednesday 19 August 2015

Wartime Consolations

Linus Roth - Wartime Consolations - Challenge Classics
Wartime Consolations - Hartmann, Weinberg, Shostakovich; Linus Roth, Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, Ruben Gazarian, Jose Gallardo; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 03 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Intense yet relatively unknown works which deserve to be heard

The works on this disc are the sort that I listen to and wonder why on earth they are not more well known. The main works on the disc, on the Challenge Classics label, are concertante works for violin and orchestra by two composers whose work seems to still be only on the fringes whereas both deserve to be far better known. Violinist Linus Roth with the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, conductor Ruben Gazarian, plays wartime works by Karl Amadeus Harmann (his Concerto Funebre) and Mieczyslaw Weinberg (his Concertino and his Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes), plus the sole surviving movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata for violin and piano.

A student of Anton Webern, and an admirer of Arnold Schoenberg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) is one of the 20th century's intriguing and frequently underrated composers. During the Nazi period in Germany, Hartmann remained in Germany but went into inner-exile by refusing to have his pieces performed in the country. His Concerto Funebre is a four movement work for violin and strings which premiered in 1940 in Switzerland and reflects the composer's lack of hope, and perhaps his determination that freedom would prevail.

It is a substantial work lasting over twenty minutes. A short Introduktion leads to the Adagio, followed by Allegro di molto and the final Choral. The Introduktion starts with the violin alone, intense and thoughtful with occasional comments from the string orchestra. The mood continues into the Adagio, becoming a still more intense dialogue between soloist and ensemble. The third movement, Allegro di molto starts rhythmic, hard edged in the strings, and a vibrant energetic solo with the two engaging in another tense dialogue which is far edgier and faster than the previous movement.  The violin writing is bravura, and leads to a cadenza which is followed by a quieter more thoughtful concluding section. The final movement Choral is based on a funeral march for the victims of the Russian revolution. It is a profoundly beautiful movement, the lyrical violin part full of singing anguish, and ending aetherially.

Polish, Jewish, Myeczyslaw Steinberg (1919-1996) was born in Warsaw and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory. Fleeing when the German troops arrived in 1939, he arrived in Minsk and finally ended up in Tashkent. Contact with Shostakovich led to his moving to Moscow and the two remained friends and Steinberg's music holds elements of influence from this friendship. His Concertino was written in 1948 at a time when his father-in-law, the celebrated Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered on Stalin's orders. For some reason, there is no record of the work being performed during Steinberg's lifetime.

In three movements, the opening Allegretto cantabile is based on a singing, lyrical melody which is rather fascinating and not a little wandering in style. There is a lovely charm to the piece, with a wistful yearning. The middle movement starts with a dramatic cadenza, followed by a lyrical melancholy Adagio with hints of Shostakovich like wit. Linus Roth plays seductively, with fine grained elegant tone. The final Allegro moderato is an elegant dance with a busy violin part and the focus is very much on the soloist leading to a bravura conclusion. And here too there are hints of Shostakovich.

Dating from around the same period is Weinberg's Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes; a ten minute piece which in lively, bravura fashion. On the surface it is an uncomplicated work, yet there is a bitter-sweet tension underneath and all the tunes, though Moldavian, are Jewish. (Weinberg's mother was from Moldavia). The work existed in a number of versions but the one for violin and orchestra has been lost and was reconstructed by Ewelina Nowicka,

Finally we hear Linus Roth and Jose Gallardo in Shostakovich's austere movement from his Sonata for Violin and Piano, written in 1945 and never finished. A terrific end to a terrific disc.

The music on this disc deserves far wider currency and in Linus Roth's performances the works have a powerful advocate. Possessed of a fine-grained singing tone with a real inner strength, Roth also has the requisite technique in addition. His is superbly supported by Ruben Gazarian and the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) - Concerto funebre
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) - Concertino op. 42
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), arr. E. Nowicka - Rhapsody on Modavian Themes op. 47 no.3
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) - Unfinished Sonata (1945)
Linus Roth (violin)
Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn
Ruben Gazarian (conductor)
Jose Gallardo (piano)
Recorded at Kulturforum Saline, 74524 Offenau, Germany 22-24 January 2015

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