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Zimmermann Warner 9029631788
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Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
The Complete Warner Recordings
rec. 1984-2001
WARNER 9029631788 [30 CDs: ca 30 hrs]

It’s rather worrying for those of us who are contemporaries of Frank Peter Zimmermann to realize that he is now of a sufficiently venerable age for Warner to devote a 30-CD box set to him. His EMI (and Teldec) legacy extended for 17 years, from 1984 to 2001 and though he has long since recorded for other labels, such as BIS, this remains his fons et origo. These are all original jacket releases though there is some jiggery-pokery. CD 27, for example, houses just two brief Prokofiev works lasting 28 minutes, whilst the remainder of the programme – the two concertos and two sonatas - can be found elsewhere in the box.

Time, then, for a whistlestop tour of his recordings which, because of the order in which they were released, sometimes break sequences, such as his Mozart Concertos which occupy CDs 1, 5 and 6. These were amongst his earliest commercial recordings, made when he was 19, with the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn under Jörg Faerber, whom I never cease to praise for his late 1960s Turnabout LP of the Boyce Symphonies, though he and the orchestra have done a great deal of good work since then. Zimmermann was an exceptionally poised, clarity-conscious young man and one could tell, even if one didn’t already know, that two of the violinists he has always most admired are Grumiaux and Milstein. There’s a similar sense of seriousness but directness and elegant naturalness to his phrasing. The balance between orchestra and soloist is well-nigh faultless and there’s a warmth to the sound that remains very appealing.

The second disc is given over to a daring reportorial gambit, the Paganini Caprices, recorded between 1984-85 when he was 20. One doesn’t especially think of him as a fiddle gymnast – at least not in the sense that he plays virtuoso material for its own sake – but this is a formidably accomplished set in which his goal was maximum transparency, to bring a similar sense of clarity to the fiendish writing as he does to Mozart. He performed these Caprices frequently in public – individually not as a cycle, I assume – and, as is his right, has his own ideas as to repeats. This isn’t something the notes have time to go into, but he does omit repeats in a couple of the caprices. Otherwise, this is a tremendously impressive cycle that is both focused and musical and emerges almost wholly unscathed (the Ninth, maybe, excepted).

The third disc presents a musical and well-integrated Beethoven Triple with Robert Cohen and Wolfgang Manz, accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra and Jukka-Pekka Saraste. This is followed by a Mendelssohnian brace – the D minor in addition to the expected E minor – in which the latter is perhaps just a touch sober. Discs 7 and 8 and 14 and 15 contain the Mozart Violin Sonatas, with Alexander Lonquich, who was for some years Zimmermann’s sonata partner. I found these bewitching readings, playing of refined elegance and dignity. Lonquich is an outstanding sonata player who phrases with consistently compelling imagination and though I was meaning to merely sample these discs I stayed instead to listen to them in their entirety. This is playing that draws one in, and that exudes something of the rapt simplicity of the Grumiaux-Klein cycle.

Zimmermann became something of a first-call player for Lorin Maazel and as one can hear in the Berlin coupling of the Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev First, theirs was a collegiate partnership. Though I’m not sure that the recording team quite coped with the Philharmonie – it sounds uncomfortably capacious as a venue in this recording - one can’t have any complaints with the performances. The Tchaikovsky is not over pressed and, in the Prokofiev, which they often performed together, and in which one can just detect the influence of David Oistrakh, rhythms are crisp and pungent, though tonal purity is always intact.

The Beethoven Concerto found Zimmermann in Abbey Road with Jeffrey Tate and the ECO. Superficially the orchestra might seem too small but it’s not a small-scale performance and its unostentatious refinement brings its own reward. He plays the Kreisler cadenzas. Perhaps my only disappointment is the finale which can sound a touch devitalised. An all-Prokofiev chamber disc followed toward the end of 1987, once again with Lonquich, in which they play both sonatas with admirable focus and concentration – especially the F minor. Mozart, though, remained a central focus of his discography and in 1988 he joined with colleagues to perform the Piano Quartets. Chamber playing has always been an essential feature of Zimmermann’s art and as we have seen in recent years his string trio with Antoine Tamestit and Christian Poltera has produced recordings of exquisite concentration and tonal lustre – true inheritors of the mantle of the Pasquier Trio. So, it’s no surprise that he excels here, with the admirable figure of pianist Christian Zacharias, violist Tabea Zimmermann, and cellist Tilmann Wick. Wick may be the least known of the quartet, but he was very much part of the Zimmermann circle at the time.

A year after he’d recorded the Beethoven Concerto, Zimmermann again joined the ECO and Jeffrey Tate for an all-Bach disc, the two solo concertos and the violin and oboe concerto with Neil Black, crisp, tasteful and attractive readings. He’s since returned to this repertoire with his son, Serge. Germans certainly celebrate their Presidents in cultural style. For the 70th birthday of Richard von Weizsäcker in April 1990 the Cologne Radio Symphony and Gary Bertini lined up a programme of Webern – yes, but it’s the romantic-sounding Im Sommerwind - Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird and one of Zimmermann’s party pieces, Mozart’s D major concerto, one that he plays especially stylishly. He and Bertini are rather tighter in the first two movements than had been the case four years earlier with Faerber. In Stuttgart the following month he and Gianluigi Gelmetti recorded the Berg and Stravinsky concertos, adding Ravel’s Tzigane for good measure and to show considerable contrast. The Berg is an especially fine reading, architecturally cogent and building to the chorale with remorseless logic.

With the same conductor and orchestra he recorded the Sinfonia concertante with his sister Tabea Zimmermann, in which the two soloists dovetail perfectly and are expressive in the slow movement. CD 19 is largely French with Lonquich again accompanying. I happen to prefer a faster tempo for the Debussy, such as Alfred Dubois and Zino Francescatti provide, but both Zimmermann and Lonquich have strong Francophile affinities and play to their undoubted strengths, even though I find the results un-Gallic (it’s not a crime to be un-Gallic). The play both Ravel sonatas – the G major and the First in A minor rather better, I find, but the Janáček, the outlier in this album, best of all. This leads on to a really remarkable French disc which includes the Auric Sonata, hardly ever performed, and Milhaud’s Second alongside Françaix’s Sonatine, Poulenc’s Sonata and Satie’s tiny Choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes). There was, however, a misjudgement about balance as Lonquich is over-recorded in relation to the violin and too often subsidiary lines emerge too forcefully. That said, the Milhaud and Françaix are especially successful, notwithstanding the recording.

CD 21 saw Zimmermann back in Berlin with Mariss Jansons for a Sibelius and Prokofiev 2 coupling. The violinist has since re-recorded the Sibelius with John Storgårds but there’s considerable rapport between Zimmermann and Jansons, who was later to record the Sibelius in Berlin with Sarah Chang. I think, though, that the Prokofiev draws even more from orchestra and soloist than the Sibelius, and it’s taken at an almost Oistrakh-like tempo. On CD 22 Truls Mørk turns in a fine Schumann Cello Concerto with Hans Vonk but ears will be on Zimmermann in the Violin Concerto, of which he is a thoroughly effective performer. He exudes the spirit of romanticism, without being overtly Germanic himself. His Dvořák-Glazunov coupling with the London Philharmonic and Welser-Möst was deliberately chosen to salute the memory of Nathan Milstein who had died about a year earlier. The Dvořák is a work in which German violinists habitually fail – even Julia Fischer couldn’t get it right, though that was largely because of her conductor, David Zinman – but Zimmermann fares much better. Welser-Möst’s is not the first name to come to mind in this work but he is professional and Zimmermann, here and in the Glazunov, keeps things moving with tight trills and folkloric pirouettes.

He took his time recording the Ysaÿe sonatas, taping three apiece on two separate occasions in October 1993 and April 1994, and the results are excellent. He characterizes each sonata with adept musicality and this is a thoroughly recommendable cycle. Jansons is back for a Saint-Saëns brace. The Third Concerto is quite cosmopolitan in outlook in this performance but none the worse for that, though I don’t sense it’s much Jansons’ cup of tea. The accompanying work is the Organ symphony in which Wayne Marshall and the organ at the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen in Rousen conspire to make the most fearsome, foul racket I think I’ve ever heard. Back to normality for a Sawallich-led Mozart-and-Brahms coupling with the Berlin Philharmonic. The Mozart this time is the G major, again faster all round than with Faerber. The question of speed is also relevant in the Brahms, which is taken at an energising pace. This linear, direct reading, which doesn’t sound rushed, is moulded with considerable distinction by Sawallich, a conductor with whom one feels that Zimmermann felt a strong affinity.

CD 27 sees a recording of Prokofiev’s Sonata for solo violin and then Zimmermann overdubbing for the Sonata for two violins. Sawallich is back in the next disc to direct the Brahms Double, with Heinrich Schiff and Zimmermann as the protagonists. Schiff had recorded it with Accardo and Masur but with Zimmermann and Sawallich the results are fast and fiery, which is the way it should be. There’s an added bonus here, because Zimmermann joins French horn player Marie-Luise Neunecker and Sawallich himself for the Trio for piano, violin and horn. Kurt Weill’s Concerto comes next (Berlin Philharmonic, Jansons), a deft and subtle performance. Jansons also plays the Second Symphony and a slightly-too-suave Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny suite. The final disc is devoted to Ligeti. The Violin Concerto of 1992 was dedicated to Zimmermann’s teacher, Saschko Gawriloff, and it’s full of fascinating sonorities and colours; an expressively deep and serious work. You’ll also find the Cello Concerto dedicated to - and performed by - Siegfried Palm. Reinbert de Leeuw directs.

Accompanying the sturdy box set is an attractive 44-page booklet in three languages; German, French and English, languages that Zimmermann speaks well. He’s a thoughtful musician, who plans repertoire and working with colleagues with principled intelligence. A wide-ranging cultural background enhances his perspective of both his life and his career. If he chooses not to travel to perform in America very often, so what? We’re fortunate to have him in our midst and at 57 he is playing with undiminished intelligence, judgement and scruple.

Jonathan Woolf

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 5 in A major, K219 ‘Turkish’
Violin Concerto No 3 in G major, K216
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Jörg Faerber
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
24 Caprices, Op 1
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Triple Concerto for piano, cello and violin and orchestra in C major, Op 56
Robert Cohen (cello). Wolfgang Manz (piano)/English Chamber Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64
Violin Concerto in D minor
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Gerd Albrecht
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No 1 in B-flat major, K207
Violin Concerto No 4 in D major, K218
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Jörg Faerber
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No 2 in D major, K211
Rondo for violin and orchestra in C major, K373
Adagio for violin and orchestra in E major, K261
Rondo for violin and orchestra in B-flat major, K269
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Jörg Faerber
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata in G major, K379
Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K454
Violin Sonata in A major, K526
Alexander Lonquich (piano)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata in D major, K306
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, K302
Violin Sonata in C major, K296
Violin Sonata in F major, K377
Alexander Lonquich (piano)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op 19
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61
Romance for violin and orchestra No 1 in G major, Op 40
Romance for violin and orchestra No 2 in F major, Op 50
English Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate
Sergei Prokofiev
Violin Sonata No 2 in D major, Op 94bis
March from ‘The Love of the Three Oranges’ transcr. Jascha Heifetz
Violin Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op 80
Cinq Mélodies, Op 35bis
Alexander Lonquich (piano)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, K478
Piano Quartet No 2 in E-flat major, K493
Tabea Zimmermann (viola): Tilmann Wick (cello): Christian Zacharias (piano)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, BWV1041
Concerto for oboe and violin in D minor, BWV1060R
Violin Concerto No 2 in E major, BWV1042
Neil Black (oboe)/English Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata in A major, K305
Violin Sonata in F major, K376
Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K378
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, K380
Alexander Lonquich (piano)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata in G major, K301
Violin Sonata in C major, K303
Violin Sonata in E minor, K304
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, K481
Alexander Lonquich (piano)

Anton von Webern (1883-1945)
Im Sommerwind
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 4 in D major, K218
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
The Firebird; suite (1919)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gary Bertini

Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto ‘To the memory of an Angel’
Igor Stravinsky
Violin Concerto in D major
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gianluigi Gelmetti

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, K364
Symphony No 40 in G minor, K550
Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gianluigi Gelmetti

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor L40
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major, M77
Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata JW VII/7 rev. Josef Suk
Alexander Lonquich (piano)

Georges Auric (1899-1983)
Violin Sonata in G major
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes)
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Violin Sonata No 2, Op 40
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Violin Sonata FP119 (1949 edition)
Alexander Lonquich (piano)

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 63
Philharmonia Orchestra/Mariss Jansons

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO23
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op 129
Manfred, Overture, Op 115
Truls Mørk (cello)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Vonk

Antonín Dvořák (1941-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 53 B108
Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 82
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)
Six Sonatas for solo violin, Op 27
Poème Élégiaque, Op 12
Rêve d’enfant, Op 14
Edoardo Maria Strabbioli (piano)

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Violin Concerto No 3 in B minor, Op 61
Symphony No 3 in C minor ‘Organ Symphony’, Op 78
Wayne Marshall (organ)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 3 in G major, K216
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallich

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Sonata for solo violin in D major, Op 115
Sonata for two violins in C major, Op 56
Franz Peter Zimmermann (second violin overdubbed in the Sonata for two violins)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Double Concerto in A minor, Op 102
Trio for piano, violin and horn in E-flat major, Op 40
Heinrich Schiff (cello)/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallich
Marie-Luise Neunecker (horn): Wolfgang Sawallich (piano)

Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
Symphony No 2
Concerto for violin and wind orchestra, Op 12
Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (suite)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons

György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Cello Concerto
Clocks and Clouds
Violin Concerto
With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles
Siegfried Palm (cello)
Capella Amsterdam
Asko/Schönberg Ensemble/Robert de Leeuw
Katalin Károlyi (mezzo-soprano)/Amadinda Percussion Group

Published: October 24, 2022

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