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Bernhard MOLIQUE (1802-1869)
Violin Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.10 [31:06]
Violin Concerto No.6 in E minor, Op.30 (c.1847) [34:05]
Anton Steck (violin)
L’arpa festante/Christoph Spering
rec. March 2011, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne
ACCENT ACC 24247 [65:11]

Despite his surname, Berhard Molique was a German violinist and composer, born in Nuremburg in 1802. His posthumous fame has largely rested on his status as an exemplar of Romantic violin virtuosity, both compositional and executant, though his long sojourn in England eclipsed his German esteem. Additionally, his concertos for the instrument have not survived, however tangentially, in the same way as have those by Rode and Spohr, or Viotti. All three have held at least a toehold on the repertory even if it was for just one concerto or even, as in the case of Viotti and Rode, that their concertos proved useful teaching material for the aspiring student. For one thing Molique’s concertos are just a touch too difficult, too technically stretching. Thus Molique has largely remained a name in the evolution of violin history, sitting squarely in the family tree of fiddle descent, but more read about than heard.
 
Corrective of a kind comes via this release, which very usefully couples the Third and Sixth Concertos. The arresting opening orchestral chords of No.3 certainly reflect Molique’s admiration for Beethoven, though what follows is perhaps more in the Sturm und Drang tradition of restless romanticism. One can certainly see why Molique used this work as a vehicle for his own playing. Indeed, a much younger musician, Joseph Joachim, who was soon to supplant Molique in the German School, took up the concerto. As evident as the Beethovenian influence is that of Spohr, with whom the young Molique had taken lessons, yet in Molique’s stylistic defence he always claimed that his principal teacher was not Spohr but Pietro Rovelli. In any case an equally persuasive feature of Molique’s writing is its sheer Frenchness. There is an especially suave and elegant cut to this concerto, rich in cantabile and, in the slow movement, replete with the portamento-legato elements that so elevated French violinism at this period. The quality is vocalised to a considerable degree, and full of ingratiating warmth. In the finale, which is a light-hearted Rondo, Molique hands the bassoon some whimsical lines.
 
The Sixth Concerto is conjectured to have been written around 1847. Like Mendelssohn’s E minor, the soloist enters almost immediately. though unlike the Mendelssohn Molique is at pains to stress the aria-like quality of his inspiration, along with a strange conjunction of Italianate bel canto and an insistent figure that sounds like the opening of Mozart’s G minor Symphony. The allusion may well be meant, but its significance escapes me. Molique’s writing is agile, virtuosic, elastic, rich in solo soliloquies and strong orchestral passages. Gracefulness was a Molique speciality, and the refined qualities of the slow movement attest to the fact. Unlike the finale of the Third, which is a Rondo vivace, here Molique prefers a dancing Rondo allegretto, full of pirouetting ballroom figures, light-hearted fun and aria-like warmth.
 
Anton Steck has both the technique and the stylistic acumen for the music. He doesn’t make too large a sound, his tone quality remaining small but focused. He displays a consistently historically-informed approach as does L’arpa festante, who play on historically appropriate instruments under the specialist conductor Christoph Spering. Together with a well-balanced recording, they make a persuasive case for the German-born, French-inclined Molique, one of the violin world’s Missing Links.
 
Jonathan Woolf