Mendelssohn, Schumann: Violin Concerto in E minor; Violin Concerto in D minor

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn,Schumann
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Violin Concerto in E minor; Violin Concerto in D minor
PERFORMER: Renaud Capuçon (violin); Mahler CO/Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: 545 6632
These two concertos make such a natural coupling I’m surprised no one has put them together on CD before. The dreamy lyricism of the Schumann makes a wonderful complement to the dynamic, ever-purposeful Mendelssohn. But I’m not sure the contrast is best illustrated by these performances. Renaud Capuçon clearly has a special affinity with more inward passages of the Schumann Concerto. The slow movement in particular has moments of almost unsettling beauty – old critical objections to this work wither in the face of playing like that. And Capuçon is just as obviously in his element in the more pensive moments of the Mendelssohn. It is also good to hear him looking to the score rather than to received interpretation – as in the diminuendo at the end of Mendelssohn’s first movement cadenza (which too many soloists ignore). But in the end both performances are only partially successful. While it’s lovely to hear Mendelssohn’s melodies played with such feeling and fresh understanding, too often the momentum flags. There’s also a lack of tension in some of the rhythms – less so in the orchestral playing than in the solo part. The polonaise theme of Schumann’s finale needs more bounce and bite. For a much more roundly successful account of the Schumann Joshua Bell on Decca is a clear first choice, while Maxim Vengerov (Teldec) still offers the most exciting and emotionally engaging modern version of the Mendelssohn – particularly recommended to those weary sophisticates who think this concerto has nothing new to say to them. Stephen Johnson