Schumann: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 129

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Onyx
WORKS: Schumann: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (from Cello Concerto, Op. 129, arr. Schumann); Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121; Clara Schumann: Three Romances for violin and piano, Op. 22
PERFORMER: Philippe Graffin (violin), Claire Désert (piano); German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/ Christoph Poppen
CATALOGUE NO: Onyx 4062

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Robert Schumann never heard his own Cello Concerto – cello virtuosos were a much rarer breed in his time than now – so his arrangement for violin may have been something of a desperate remedy. Most of it works well enough, especially if you don’t know the original, and there are even one or two gains. The violin-cello dialogues in the slow movement take on a feminine-masculine quality where the cello version had sounded entirely male. 

Violinist Philippe Graffin makes a very appealing case for it, but in the end the loss of the cello’s warm chest resonance is hard to bear for long. True the violin makes a lot of the writing sound lighter and more fluent than it does on the cello, but how much of a gain is that?

The sense of effort in the cello original is surely part of its pathos. And nowhere is that more evident than in the long opening solo melody: where’s the anguish as the cello strains upwards, or the resiny gruffness as it plunges back into the depths?

On the plus side, Clara Schumann’s Three Romances are much more than salon sweetmeats, and Graffin and Claire Désert play them elegantly and with feeling. And Robert’s own Second Sonata is played with a fine blend of strength and fragility.

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It doesn’t quite dislodge the Carolin Widmann/Dénés Várjon version on their disc of the complete sonatas, but it does show a good deal of understanding and feeling. So if Graffin feels like recording the genuine Schumann Violin Concerto some day… Stephen Johnson