The Schumann Violin Concerto in D minor has had a rough run through history. Composed in autumn 1853, it was his last orchestral work before his suicide attempt and incarceration in a mental hospital. After his death, the work was suppressed by Clara Schumann, Brahms and Joachim; it was not heard again until 1937, when a bizarre set of circumstances led to a race for its resuscitation between the violinists Jelly d’Arányi, Yehudi Menuhin and Georg Kulenkampff. Its supposedly problematic nature has divided listeners ever since.
Unfortunately this recording makes the piece more awkward still. Though there’s some sweet-toned, intimate playing from Anthony Marwood, especially in the slow movement, the tempos of the first movement and the polonaise finale are impossibly leaden. Schumann may have marked them ‘not too fast’, but there’s no need to bend too far the other way. Worse, the lack of dramatic definition from soloist and conductor alike makes the music sag and drag. Yehudi Menuhin’s 1938 recording with Sir John Barbirolli highlights the issue: here sparks fly, and the piece does not feel remotely awkward, but flowers as the masterpiece it is.
The Violin Concerto in A minor is Schumann’s transcription of his own Cello Concerto and again can split opinions. One advantage is that the violin’s timbre lends the dark-hued work more light and sparkle. This account, while accurate and accomplished, is nevertheless too prosaic to make a strong case for a concerto that cries out for flair, passion and imagination. Alas, the Phantasie, Op.131 doesn’t break the pattern.