Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra. Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano. Theodore Kuchar, Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 95733.

No, not that one. This is the violin concerto Mendelssohn wrote when he was thirteen.

According to Wikipedia, "The Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D minor was composed by Felix Mendelssohn" around 1822. "It has three movements, Allegro–Andante–Allegro, and performance duration is approximately 22 minutes. Mendelssohn was considered by many of his time to be a prodigy comparable only to the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Besides being a brilliant piano virtuoso, his composition took a firm step forward in musical development. In the period when this concerto was composed, Mendelssohn composed twelve string symphonies. At the age of eleven, he had written a trio for strings, a violin and piano sonata, two piano sonatas, and the beginning of a third, three more for four hands, four for organ, three songs (lieder), and a cantata." And, of course, it would only be a few more years before he wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"Mendelssohn wrote the concerto for Eduard Rietz (eldest brother of Julius Rietz), a beloved friend and teacher." However, "nobody ever performed it in Mendelssohn's own day, and it was only in 1952 that Yehudi Menuhin exhumed and premiered it." Today, we have several recordings of it, although I doubt that any of them, including this one under review, will help usher the concerto into the basic classical repertoire. While it is certainly pleasant and has much to commend it, it never rises to the level of maturity or musical accomplishment of the more-famous Violin Concerto in E minor, which the composer premiered in 1845. Still, this recording might be worthwhile if only as a musical curiosity.

Solomiya Ivakhiv
Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv handles the solo part with a graceful ease that well captures the youthful spirit of the work. The melodies may not be as soaring or memorable as the ones he would later write, but they are sweet and soothing, qualities Ms. Ivakhiv expounds nicely. Under the leadership of Maestro Theodore Kuchar, the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra sounds as polished as ever, and Ms. Ivakhiv is appropriately expressive, lyrical, and, in the final movement, exuberant. I've heard this concerto played by four or five different violinists over the years, and none of them impressed me as much as this one. Maybe I'm just getting used to the music, or maybe Ms. Ivakhiv has given it just the right touch of sensitivity.

The album's coupling is another early work, the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, which Mendelssohn wrote in 1823. It received one private and one public performance but was never published in the composer's lifetime. And it, too, had to wait until the 1950's to receive a revival. Interestingly, Mendelssohn originally wrote it for only a string accompaniment but later added parts for wind and timpani, which we hear on this recording.

I could not remember having heard this duo concerto before and rather enjoyed it, perhaps more so than the early violin concerto alone. There is a grand sweep to the first movement that is invigorating, and the interplay of violin and piano is often a delight. The duo concerto is much longer than the early solo concerto, too, giving it a bit more substance and the soloists more room to maneuver. Then, too, Mendelssohn gives each of the instrumentalists little solo flights of their own from time to time, which add to the work's poignant charm. Another vivacious finale closes the show in rigorous fashion.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the concertos at The Fatra House of Art, Ziliny, Slovakia in November 2017. The orchestral sound is big and warm but without much depth. When the violin enters in the first concerto, it is well positioned and notably clearer, better detailed than the orchestra. As things progress, however, any minor qualms disappear, and we begin to appreciate how well the soloist and orchestra work together. The sound may be slightly soft, but it tends to fit the music in any case. In the second of the concertos, with both violin and piano, the two soloists appear a little too close for my taste and tend to dwarf the orchestra.

JJP

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

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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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa