Brahms • R Schumann
Brahms: Double Concerto; R Schumann: Violin Concerto
Antje Weithaas (violin), Maximilian Hornung (cello); NDR Radiophilharmonie/Andrew Manze
CPO 555 172-2 63.25 mins
Brahms and Schumann’s most misunderstood concertos make an unusually effective coupling. Knowledge that Schumann’s Violin Concerto was the last major work he finished before his final psychotic breakdown has coloured its reception. Joachim, who was to have premiered it, might have made some helpful suggestions – as he did with Brahms’s Violin Concerto; but he could hardly have made it more poetic or moving. Schumann described it as his ‘path to joy’, which under the circumstances seems painfully ironic. Antje Weithaas is sensitive to the music’s fragile emotional ambiguity, its tendency (like so much Schumann) for the mood to turn and turn back again in seconds. So too is Andrew Manze, who makes the best case I’ve heard for the much-criticised orchestral writing. Above all, Weithaas and Manze convey a sense that this work does follow a ‘path’, if an unusually circuitous, even maze-like one.
And here’s a performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto that has purged the music of much of its accustomed heaviness and astringency, offering instead something that at times feels more like a chamber concerto – especially in the lovely dialogue at the heart of the slow movement.