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Out of the Shadow
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Concerto in La Maggiore D 96 per Violino, Archi e Continuo [18:33]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Violin Concerto in G major Hob.VIIa:4 [20:37]
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in D minor for violin and string orchestra [24:06]
Rebekka Hartmann (violin)
Salzburg Chamber Soloists/Lavard Skou Larsen
rec. 2017, Solitär, Mozarteum, Salzburg
SOLO MUSICA SM291 [63:18]

You can tell most CDs by their cover, since many will give some basic indication of what has been recorded, as well as often including either a picture of the artist or composer, or some other related art-work,

This new CD from Rebekka Hartmann includes a photo of the Munich-born violinist – minus violin – and the name of the accompanying ensemble. But the nearest we get here to discovering what’s on the CD is its title, ‘Out of the Shadow’ – and this isn’t exactly emblazoned across the top either. Turn the CD over, and all is revealed – well, nearly all, if you don’t read German, the language used to explain the significance of the title, which is, when translated: “Three selected violin concertos with one thing in common – these are the unknown works of well-known masters. Jewels in the Shadow …”

Each of the three ‘jewels’ recorded here does in essence come under the ‘unknown’ umbrella, even if it might be fairer to describe Mendelssohn’s concerto more accurately as ‘less-well-known’. The other two composers represented alongside him – Tartini and Joseph Haydn – would also match the description of being ‘well-known masters’.

So why, then, did the production team plump for the title ‘Out of the Shadow’, when they might just as easily have called it: ‘Hartmann plays lesser-known works by Tartini, Haydn, and Mendelssohn’? Agreed, the title adds a certain curiosity and charisma in the market-place, but once you’ve listened to all three works in their entirety, you’ll surely begin to read between the lines and come to appreciate what the title’s possible deeper meaning is.

Giuseppe Tartini is probably best known, especially among violinists, for his Devil’s Trill Sonata, but his output also embraces some 135 violin concertos, including the present Concerto in A, which, because it comprises four, rather than the more usual-for-the-time three movements, was probably written relatively late in his life. From the first few bars of the decidedly bouncy opening ‘Allegro’ you find yourself ensconced in an undoubtedly Baroque environment, where both soloist and ensemble would appear to have swapped their modern instruments, although Hartmann’s gorgeous Stradivarius does date from 1675, for a complete set of Baroque ones (while still keeping to the modern A440 pitch standard), such is the authenticity of the sound, and playing style, especially where ornamentation is concerned. Hartmann injects real humour, too, which Lavard Skou Larsen communicates to his outstanding band of players, who respond in a split-second. She proves especially effective when handling the unnervingly high tessitura of the solo writing at times. The second movement (‘Adagio’), in the tonic minor key, is one of those characteristic movements where the soloist sings over the top of an accompaniment of slowly-punctuated chords. Here, in particular, Hartmann manages the thorny and oft-discussed issue of vibrato to well-studied perfection. The ensuing ‘Presto’ has a definite dance lilt to it, to which soloist and ensemble respond well, aided by neat articulation and tautness of ensemble. Anyone listening to this concerto for the first time, certainly in a concert-hall, would deserve an unconditional apology were they to burst into spontaneous applause at the close of this ‘Presto’, for Tartini then, somewhat bizarrely adds a fourth movement (‘Largo Andante’) as the real finale. This emerges as a lovely, flowing slow cantilena from the violin, which very much looks forward to some of the similarly-expressive slow movements in the Classical period, and which shows Hartmann at her most expressive and sensitive. The fact that it really does seem so out of place, and isn’t even in the concerto’s home key, but rather the dominant, could seem to suggest that perhaps, over the centuries, it was originally another slow movement that somehow became an orphan, until it got tacked on here?

Haydn wrote just three violin concertos which are authentic, and have survived, and which appeared probably before 1770, for the Italian violinist Luigi Tomasini, the leader of his orchestra and one of Prince Esterházy’s favourite musicians. There is quite a lengthy orchestral exposition at the start of the G major Concerto, and, almost as if by magic, we have been transported from the sunny climes of the Istrian Peninsula of Tartini’s birthplace, to the more sedate surroundings and splendour of Esterháza, the summer palace of Prince Esterházy, and often referred to as the Hungarian Versailles – ‘puro Tartini’ has literally been replaced by ‘echt Haydn’, and the effect is quite ravishing on the ear. There is an extended cadenza, which Hartmann despatches with great aplomb and a most impressive control of intonation. The second movement is an ‘Adagio’ in a distinctly singing style; it is fascinating to compare the stylistic approach here with the ‘Largo Andante’ that concluded Tartini’s earlier concerto. There is a short cadenza, simple in concept, but very sensitively delivered by the soloist. The finale makes some use of contrapuntal technique, but still at its heart is a sense of fun and the virtuosity of its original performer, Tomasini, all of which Hartmann takes so easily in her stride, in a vibrant performance of the utmost skill and poise.

The final part of this journey northwards takes the listener to Germany – Berlin and Leipzig in the early-Romantic period, and the world and times of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, even if his date of birth is unfortunately shown here as 1890, rather than 1809, something the record label noticed too late for the first print-run. Mendelssohn’s much-revered Violin Concerto in E minor is arguably one of the best known in the whole repertoire, but, long before this appeared, the composer had composed an earlier one in D minor, with accompaniment for string orchestra only, at the tender age of thirteen. The surviving autograph has only two extant movements, along with sketches of a third, but Mendelssohn later revised the work, tightening up the first two movements, while apparently making more radical changes to the finale. Not surprisingly however, the work was always overshadowed by its E minor relation, and not performed again for many years. But in 1950 legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin discovered the manuscript of the second version, making the first recording of in in 1952 in New York.

The opening ‘Allegro’ is reminiscent of Mozart, especially in some of the Austrian’s D minor music. The soloist initially uses the bustling string accompaniment as a springboard for cantilena playing, much in accordance with the practices of the Sturm und Drang era. But the lyrical second subject in the relative major has that typical sugary coating that we’ve come to expect from Mendelssohn’s more mature works. Conventional passage-work concludes the exposition and leads into an impressive and significant development section where the young composer, even at thirteen, uses some quite interesting harmonic twists and turns for the time. Here, and in the slightly-curtailed recapitulation that follows, the string-playing, both from the soloist and her supporting musicians, is first-rate.

The ‘Andante’ slow movement is basically another lyrical melody sung by the soloist, after a pulsing orchestral opening which largely provides the movement’s onward flow and momentum. Harmonically Mendelssohn is even bolder here than in the opening ‘Allegro’, as if seeking to try out his melody in a few different keys, major and minor. Larsen ensures that his orchestral players accompany Hartmann with the same care and attention as he would a vocal soloist, allowing each phrase to breathe, and always with the utmost concern for uncomplicated instrumental balance, always strongly supportive, yet never overpowering, right up to the so-delicate close, something which is hard to bring off in performance. This sublime ‘Andante’ is the longest single track on the CD and leaves the listener somewhat emotionally drained. But life goes on, and Mendelssohn concludes his D minor Concerto with a charming little ‘Allegro’ with a distinct gypsy-like alla Ungarese feel to it. This is essentially a fun finale – even if there is the odd nod in the direction of the composer’s Elijah. It is by no means without its technical challenges, especially with a solo cadenza or two along the way, but Hartmann and the Salzburg Chamber Soloists really rise to the occasion with this, the final offering on a disc which indeed does contain ‘jewels in the shadow’ – and possibly where Mendelssohn’s work also emerges the true ‘Jewel in the Crown’.

Of course, there are numerous discs out there already, replete with unfamiliar repertoire, but Rebekka Hartmann’s enthralling new compilation does not merely feature works from three different periods in Music History – as I alluded to at the start; she goes on to present them with total respect for, and a complete understanding of the playing practices of each concerto’s distinct époque.

Factor in the superb playing, strikingly-faithful recordings and attractive presentation, and it should finally become abundantly clear why the factual title I’d suggested earlier simply won’t suffice. Hartmann doesn’t just bring these three neglected works out of the shadows, she renders them in high relief, each one perfectly restored in its own surroundings.

Now that is really bringing something ‘Out of the Shadow’, I’d say.

Philip R Buttall

 



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