WORKS: Violin Concerto in the Hungarian Style; Violin Concerto in D
PERFORMER: Rachel Barton (violin); Chicago SO/Carlos Kalmar
CATALOGUE NO: CDR 90000 068
Young Chicagoan Rachel Barton secures an original entrance to the canon of recordings of the Brahms: no one else has dared couple it with the Joachim. Yet it’s an excellent idea. Joachim’s big, immensely taxing Concerto was a powerful factor in the Brahms’s immediate ancestry. This seems to be Barton’s personal project. She plays the 1742 Guarneri del Gesù that Brahms purchased for Marie Soldat, one of his favourite performers, and she contributes extensive notes, uses the Joachim cadenza for the Brahms but adds her own effusive one (it has one very good passage) on a bonus track.
In Barton’s hands the Joachim Concerto is more impulsive and lyrical than in Elmar Oliveira’s account (IMP, no longer available), with greater contrasts of tempo and a more flamboyant approach to the Hungarian zigeuner element, making the work’s combination of grand symphonic architecture and gypsy sentiment all the more paradoxical. It demands superhuman technique and stamina, and Barton seems more at ease with its challenges than Oliveira. Not only is her tone less pinched and her account of the finale more thrilling, but the recording is warmer and Kalmar’s direction, bringing out additional orchestral detail, matches her for fire. No one interested in the development of the violin concerto should be without this near-masterpiece, and this is now the version to have.
Competition in the Brahms is immeasurably fiercer, but Barton’s approach is nothing if not bold: the temperamental Hungarian quality combined with a big-boned sense of the piece’s flow and form seem to carry over from the Joachim. It’s a confident, grandiloquent performance projected with real authority and sometimes lustrous tone. If she isn’t quite up there yet with the first ladies of the Brahms Concerto (Ida Haendel, Erica Morini, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Ginette Neveu, for instance) it can only be a matter of time. This is a laudable release. Calum MacDonald