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Pierre RODE (1774-1830)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 3 (1794) [32:13]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in D major, Op. 7 (1800-1?) [22:51]
Violin Concerto No. 9 in C major, Op. 17 (1804-8?) [21:06]
Friedemann Eichhorn (violin)
Jena Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicolás Pasquet
rec. Volkshaus, Jena, 2011
NAXOS 8.572755 [76:27]

In music history, musical nationalism is considered an outgrowth of the Romantic style, but it's nonetheless possible to hear "national" stylistic differences in the music of earlier periods. Composers of the Baroque, for example, drew upon common harmonic and structural idioms; yet the sprightly rhythms of the French school are readily distinguishable from the suave, dark-toned lyricism of Italian and Spanish practitioners, and from the Germans' seriousness and contrapuntal stylings.

I mention this because the Naxos blurb, drawn from Bruce R. Schueneman's program note, makes a point of telling us that Pierre Rode's concertos "represent the full flowering of the French violin school." That may well be so, in terms of solo technique and style; but I hear nothing that marks these solid, well-wrought scores as obviously "French." If anything, they're mainstream Germanic in style, with Haydn coming most frequently to mind: in the Sturm und Drang of the D minor concerto's opening ritornello -- it would fit right into that composer's middle-period symphonies -- and in the relaxed graciousness of the themes in the slow movements. In the C major concerto, the Beethovenian gravitas at the start of the central Cavatina is balanced by the bouncing jocularity of the Allegretto finale.

Not that Rode doesn't have a few tricks up his sleeve, particularly when it comes to subverting structural expectations. The Adagio of the D minor concerto begins with a big, proclamatory, rather ominous unison before it settles into the expected quieter writing. Conversely, the opening of the D major is surprisingly gentle and light-textured, with the usual vigorous ritornello arriving about half a minute later. The ritornello of the C major concerto brings the best of both worlds: stark downward unisons juxtaposed with broader lyric phrases. In the same concerto's Cavatina, however, the overlay of musical gingerbread starts to seem a bit much.

The three concertos on offer fall gratefully on the ear; as performed here, they're also quite engaging. Friedemann Eichhorn begins unpromisingly: his first few phrases in the D minor sound "stringy" in the wrong way and, in the first downward flourish, the notes don't all quite speak. Shortly thereafter, however, the soloist settles into a better-supported sound filling out the lower-lying phrases in the D minor's Adagio with a nice singing tone and he's adept in such passagework as the triplets in the D major's closing Rondo ŕ la russe.

Conductor Nicolás Pasquet projects the fast tuttis with a taut drive and a volatility that, not inappropriately, suggests Beethoven; and he phrases the lyrical passages expressively within the core pulse. At the start of the C major concerto, the scansion is briefly unclear; otherwise, the music goes with a sure sense of purpose. The Jena Philharmonic is clearly one of Europe's stronger second-tier orchestras. The string playing is trim and precise; the ensemble sonority is full-bodied, and the tuttis are clean. Only the occasional slightly wheezy wind chord, suggesting mild tuning discrepancies, detracts from the overall effect.
Emphatically recommended, especially at the Naxos price. You might not remember much about this music after it's over, but you'll enjoy it immensely while you're hearing it.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.



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