Philippe Graffin performs works for violin by Mendelssohn and Schumann

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn,Schumann
LABELS: Cobra Records
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn • Schumann
WORKS: Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Schumann: Phantasie, Op. 131; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Philippe Graffin (violin); Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Tuomas Rousi
CATALOGUE NO: COBRA 0043

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Be prepared for a surprise in this account of the Mendelssohn Concerto. Halfway through the first movement, Philippe Graffin substitutes the famous written-out cadenza with one of his own. Graffin claims that the work’s original dedicatee, Ferdinand David, composed the cadenza, and that by marking it to be played ‘ad libitum’, Mendelssohn was assuming that any prospective performers of the work would follow suit by substituting one of their own. Unfortunately, his argument is somewhat scotched by the existence of a letter from Mendelssohn to David in which the composer explains ‘ad libitum’ as an indication that he wanted the arpeggios in the cadenza to be played in the freest possible tempo.

Still, it’s interesting to hear Graffin’s more extended and showy cadenza, although in structural terms it doesn’t act as such an effective bridge passage to the return of the opening theme. I also liked Graffin’s fresh flowing account of the Andante, but the Finale lacks rhythmic steadiness and could be more elegantly dispatched.

Both soloist and orchestra are much more convincing in Schumann’s Phantasie. Graffin delivers the demanding solo part with brilliance and a high level of expressivity, and the Italian orchestra responds with some beautifully balanced playing. The Violin Concerto, on the other hand, is mixed. The orchestral texture in the opening tutti of the first movement is muddy with the chugging middle strings triplets camouflaging the all-important rising scales in the first violins. Graffin, however, is commanding in the first movement and eloquent in the ensuing Langsam. Unfortunately, the fast-paced tempo adopted for the Polonaise Finale is something of a miscalculation, Graffin struggling to make much musical sense of some of the rushing passagework.

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Erik Levi