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EntArteOpera Festival
Ethel SMYTH (1858-1944)

Concerto for violin, horn and orchestra (1926) [26:45]
Vítězslavá KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)
Concertino for violin, clarinet and orchestra, Op.21 (1939) [14:19]
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Concerto funebre for violin and strings (1939, rev 1959) [21:15]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra, H342 (1953) [27:16]
Thomas Albertus Irnberger (violin)
Milena Viotti (horn), Reinhard Wieser (clarinet), Michael Korstick (piano)
Wiener Concert-Verein/Doron Salomon (Smyth, Kaprálová)
Israel Chamber Orchestra/Martin Sieghart (Hartmann)
Georgisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt/Martin Sieghart (Martinů)
rec. 2014-2016, Beethovensaal der Pfarre Heiligenstadt, Vienna (Smyth, Kaprálová); Barocksaal, Schlossmuseum, Linz (Hartmann); Kongresszentrum Bad Ischl, Upper Austria (Martinů)
GRAMOLA 99098 SACD [41:02+48:19]

These concerto performances were given under the aegis of the EntArteOpera Festival in successive years from 2014 to 2016. I’m not quite sure how the redoubtable Dame Ethel Smyth would have enjoyed her Double Concerto being held up as an example of ‘degenerate’ music – not least since it was written in 1926 for the amiable Marjorie Hayward and Aubrey Brain.

Sonorously named Thomas Albertus Irnberger is the violin soloist in all four works. For the Smyth he is joined by Milena Viotti. He is a much bigger presence in the soloistic spectrum than Sophie Langdon in the rival studio recording on Chandos, where she is partnered by Richard Watkins, the BBC Philharmonic being directed by Odaline de la Martinez. Irnberger’s vibrato is richer and fruitier – not always an advantage, if truth be told, in this work – but Watkins is a much warmer and more resilient soloist than Viotti. It’s Martinez, who has a far greater experience of Smyth’s music than Doron Salomon, who sculpts the more convincing orchestral tapestry and who has the finer orchestra. I quite liked the far tighter approach to the slow movement from Irnberger and Viotti and the finale is strongly articulated, its jovial dance elements emerging well. On balance the Chandos team is all-round the one to go for, notwithstanding some fine playing to be heard here.

Vítězslava Kaprálová’s Concertino for violin and clarinet dates from 1939, the year before her very early death. She never completed the finale which is heard here in the published edition made by Miloš Štědroň and Leoš Faltus. It’s a concise three-panel work lasting barely fourteen minutes, but she manages to encode her very personal brand of expressionism to good effect. Her soloists, Irnberger and Reinhard Wieser, are not asked to enact combat but to integrate and interplay not least in the introverted and quietly moving slow movement, where the solemn soloists are buttressed by the orchestra’s surprisingly warm lyricism. The witty and light-hearted finale just fades away – incomplete.

Hartmann’s Concerto funebre is, by now, almost a repertory piece, on disc if not actually in the concert hall. This is another good addition to the roster of performances on CD as it’s well-paced and emotive, Irnberger’s penchant for rich vibrato ensuring that nothing is undersold. That said, André Gertler was the master of the Romanticist approach to this work, more so even than Václav Snítil, who can be heard in a rare broadcast performance on Radio Servis. Irnberger is not as subtle or quite as persuasive. The final work is Martinů’s Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra, where the violinist is joined by Michael Korstick. I found the romantic phrasing of both soloists most engaging in the slow movement and Martin Sieghart does his best with his forces, but I am afraid they are pretty much outclassed by the galvanising sprung rhythms and athleticism of the Czech Philharmonic under Christopher Hogwood on Supraphon. And, good though they are, Bohuslav Matoušek and Karel Košárek are just much more vivid and virtuosic than the two Gramola soloists.

The SACD DSD recording can’t persuade one that the venues are the Jesus-Kirche or the Musikverein, much less the Concertgebouw, but is perfectly serviceable. The Entarte rubric clearly doesn’t fit everything – in fact it probably only fits the Hartmann – but if it gives the opportunity to hear these disparate but valuable works, that can only be a good thing. The booklet notes are conscientious and good, and the production is at a high level. To be brutal, in every case where there is competition, the competition is preferable. But nevertheless, and despite my strictures, I commend this twofer for its ambition and dedication.

Jonathan Woolf

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