Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, John Adams: Violin Concerto. Chad Hoopes, violin; Kristjan Jarvi, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Naive V5368.

Quick: What do nineteenth-century German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and contemporary American minimalist composer John Adams (b. 1947) have in common? Correct: They both write music. Naturally, the booklet notes try to explain why young American violinist Chad Hoopes chose to pair two disparate violin concertos by these two dissimilar composers in his debut album. I didn't find the arguments very convincing, however, the most persuasive one being that the two concertos are among the performer's favorites. Now, that's fair enough.

Mr. Hoopes bears a slight if superficial resemblance to Justin Bieber, which can't hurt album sales. Moreover, from what I hear on this disc, he has about an 800:1 talent-ratio advantage over Mr. Bieber, which definitely can't hurt album sales. Mr. Hoopes won first prize in the Young Artists Division of the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition and has since appeared with a number of ensembles throughout the world. The present album is, as I say, his first foray into the recording field.

Anyhow, the program begins with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 64 (more commonly known simply as the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto). The composer premiered it in 1845, and it would be his last big orchestral work. Fortunately, he went out in style, the concerto being among the most popular in the violin repertoire.

Donald Rosenberg in an accompanying essay notes the Mendelssohn concerto's "impetuous phrases with which the violin opens." It's probably this quality of impetuosity that best describes Hoopes's playing; while other violinists have probably provided more emotion, more sympathy, more sentimentality, more overt Romanticism in the concerto, Hoopes brings an appealing tone of controlled youthful enthusiasm to it. Not that the tempos are overly brisk; Hoopes just moves them forward with a good, strong thrust, bringing out more of the work's rhythmic characteristics than some other violinists do.

Hoopes takes the lovely melodies of Mendelssohn's second-movement Andante more quickly than usual, yet he does them little or no harm, again emphasizing the movement's dramatic momentum over its more-delicate lyric phrasing. And, again, this is not a bad approach, just a different one. The movement still retains much of its beauty and grace.

Mendelssohn's finale is one of high, good cheer, which Hoopes negotiates more conventionally than he does the preceding movements. His violin dances, jumps, spins, and pirouettes elegantly, although with maybe not quite the ultimate zeal I've heard from a handful of other performers. As I say, it's only here that Hoopes tends to sound a little more traditional than in other parts of the concerto

John Adams premiered his Violin Concerto in 1994, and while it doesn't approach anything like the popularity of the Mendelssohn (because, as you know, for most modern composers tunefulness appears forbidden), the music is, nevertheless, innovative and fun in its own way. The Adams concerto is definitely a modern piece, and one has to accept that fact at the outset. Even the movement notations are unique: [], Chaconne: 'Body Through Which the Dream Flows,' and Toccare (Italian, "to touch"). Well, right there you know you're in for something out of the ordinary. The violin enters almost immediately, and from that point Hoopes continues an upward spiral of continuous notes. The music becomes more insistent as it carries on in an ever-forward circular pattern of rhythms, Hoopes making the most of its sometimes eerie transformations. Even though you won't find the melodic lines of a Mendelssohn here, you'll find Hoopes is able to keep your attention with his well-animated playing.

As with the Mendelssohn, the first movement of the Adams piece glides readily into the second, darker, evocative slow movement, and Hoopes negotiates the transition effortlessly, supported by excellent, well-modulated accompaniment from Maestro Kristjan Jarvi and the MDR Leipzig RSO. Then, in the finale, we get a vigorous, quick-paced dance, with hints of Adams's Shaker Loops throughout. OK, so maybe there are more similarities between the Adams and Mendelssohn pieces than at first meet the eye (or ear), at least structurally. Hoopes ends the Adams work with another of his bursts of impetuous energy, making in all an enjoyable ride.

Naive recording producer Alfredo Lasheras Hakobian and balance engineer Evelyn Ruhlemann recorded the album at the MDR-Studio Leipzig in November 2013. With the soloist front and center (but not too much so), the sound is fairly natural, with a decent dynamic range, good frequency extensions in treble and bass, and a modest midrange transparency. It's pretty much all most listeners could ask for in this music, including a moderate depth to the supporting ensemble, a mild resonance, a sweet warmth, and a realistically nuanced violin tone.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa