Brahms, Schumann: Brahms: Violin Concerto; Schumann: Symphony No. 4

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schumann
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Brahms: Violin Concerto; Schumann: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Vienna SO/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: Orfeo C 752 111

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This live recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto documents Arabella Steinbacher’s successful Viennese debut at the Musikverein in December 2007. While acknowledging that her current view of the work may well have changed since then, Steinbacher says she agreed to its release because the occasion was unique and offered her an opportunity to work with conductor Fabio Luisi and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

The performance is impressive, offering a relatively straightforward and unmannered interpretation. Steinbacher possesses a beautifully warm, burnished tone and performs almost flawlessly throughout. The first movement is spacious but never indulgent, securing an almost ideal balance between the Classical and Romantic aspects of the work. Luisi extracts a wealth of interesting detail from the orchestral accompaniment and the sound has great immediacy.

Luisi’s Schumann Fourth Symphony is drawn from his complete cycle of the Symphonies which has already been released by Orfeo. It’s a largely compelling performance too, though I agree with Misha Donat, who reviewed the original set in these pages (December 2010), that the conductor’s decision to adopt an unduly slow tempo for the middle section of the Scherzo
is a miscalculation.

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By coincidence, Avie released an ostensibly similar coupling from Thomas Zehetmair (as violinist and conductor) and the Northern Sinfonia four years ago (Disc of the Month, July 2007). The Schumann on this disc, however, is performed in its original 1841 version. In technical terms there is little to choose between Zehetmair and Steinbacher in the Brahms, but the Avie release (AV 2125) offers a more vivid and dynamic musical experience bringing a veneer of freshness and urgency to this well-worn masterpiece. Erik Levi