Schumann: Violin Concerto in D minor; Piano Concerto in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D minor; Piano Concerto in A minor
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin), Martha Argerich (piano) CO of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90696-2 DDD
Schumann’s most popular concerto, coupled with his most maligned. The Violin Concerto was, in fact, the last work he completed before his mental breakdown; and although Joachim began learning it, both he and Clara Schumann eventually decided the score was unworthy of its composer, and suppressed it. Astonishingly, its premiere was not given until 1937.

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It is a work full of memorable ideas, though its finale has always proved elusive. Schumann’s marking is an apparently paradoxical ‘Lively, but not fast’; and if it is treated conventionally as a quick movement – as it is in Gidon Kremer’s previous recording, with Muti and the Philharmonia – some of its violin writing seems almost impossibly intricate. However, Kremer has clearly rethought the piece, and he and Harnoncourt take Schumann’s very slow metronome marking at face value. As a result, the polonaise-like music acquires a convincing swagger, and fresh light is shed on its kinship with the preceding slow movement.

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There is much to enjoy, too, in Martha Argerich’s exuberant performance of the Piano Concerto. Harnoncourt, though, sems reluctant to allow the initial oboe melody its due breathing space, and I found some of his tempo fluctuations during the opening pages jarring. Misha Donat