Felix Mendelssohn • R Schumann
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor; R Schumann: Violin Concerto
Alena Baeva (violin); Persimfans
Melodiya MELCD 1002639 55:34 mins
Founded in 1922, in the idealistic early years of Soviet Russia, Persimfans was a full-size symphony orchestra performing without conductor, in which all the musical decisions were made collectively. Impressive standards were evidently sustained until changes in Stalinist music policy put an end to it in 1933, but in 2009 the project was revived in Moscow and it has to be said that one hardly misses the ‘interpretative’ ministrations of a conductor given the togetherness, vibrancy and formal reach of the orchestral playing in this new recording.
Concertos, of course, have an alternative focus in their soloist. The Russian-born virtuoso Alena Baeva brings a distinctive silvery tone to her deft articulation of the outer movements of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and warmth, without mawkishness to its slow movement. The original manuscript version of 1844 is used here rather than the published revision, but the differences only amount to a handful of phrases. This is a highly recommendable recording.
Schumann’s Violin Concerto, his last major work, composed under increasing mental stress, was withheld from performance until the 1930s. Yet its real problem is less the music than the inordinately slow metronome marks he gave for the outer movements. While most performers take them considerably faster, Persimfans actually observe them, which means the polonaise-style finale limps a bit, though allowing space for some especially poetic phrasing from Baeva. And together they find a lovely luminosity in the slow movement with its strange, floating continuity, offering a glimpse into a new musical world Schumann might have explored had he been allowed to live a few more years.