, May 2011
Friedrich Hermann may be best known to violinists as a pedagogue and editor, but Naxos’s compilation (an installment in its series devoted to 19th-century violinist composers) of his works for trios (mostly three violins) reveals a facile elegance in writing for his instrument. Violin trios may be scarcer than hens’ teeth, and so, as Bruce Schuenemann’s note points out, Hermann’s trios may come as something of a surprise, especially in the deft intertwining of their parts. In the Burleske and capriccios, Reto Kuppel plays the first part, Alexia Eichhorn the second, and Friedemann Eichhorn the third (the notes suggest that, in the Capriccio No. 1, Hermann himself took the third part with students playing the first two). Although the parts sound buoyant, they hardly seem virtuosic in themselves, but combining their rapid-fire figuration must have been daunting, and the Eichhorns and Kuppel do so seamlessly. In the Burleske, they weave brisk, almost tongue-in-cheek variations on Oh, du lieber Augustin. Capriccio No. 1 strikes a more serious pose; and despite the close approach of its melodiousness to mere glibness, the overall impression remains one of champagne-induced giddiness, an impact recalled by the opening of Capriccio No. 2. Much of this impact must be due to the dashing aplomb of the three violinists, who clamber up and down scales at breakneck speeds and scamper to and fro in intoxicated triplets—sometimes staccato ones at that—without ever tangling or colliding. Capriccio No. 3 begins more sedately, and it maintains that more serious outlook, despite its major key, throughout, even in the brilliant concluding passages.
Friedemann Eichhorn and Alexander Hülshoff collaborate in Hermann’s Grand Duo Brillant that follows. I nominated their disc of virtuosic duos for violin and cello by Adrien François Servais (Naxos 8.572188) and several violinist partners for 2010’s Want List; in truth, Hermann’s duo doesn’t make the same effervescent impression, though it seems well wrought, occasionally dramatic, and consistently demanding technically. For Eichhorn and Hülshoff, it’s a virtuoso vehicle—if not a Ferrari, at least a Jaguar. And those who tire quickly of noodling, however deft, should find that Hermann’s sensitivity to atmospheric textures lifts the slow movement far above the level of mere routine.
The three violins return for Hermann’s five-movement Suite in D Minor, which brings Hermann’s section of the program to a close. In this work, Freidemann’s on first, Alexia’s on second, and Reto’s on third. (The “Who’s on first?” routine comes to mind.) As in the Grand Duo, this work explores a wider range of expressivity, from a weighty opening Grave, to a pizzicato-dominated Scherzo that anticipates some whirlwind 20th-century pieces, a haunting Canzonetta that bears affinities to Spohr’s duos texturally and melodically, and a stern Allegro risoluto, to a seven-and-a-half-minute finale that proceeds from an almost immobile funeral march to a set of more headlong passages that fit well into the opening’s mood—until the last minute or so, when the clouds break up. For the musicians, who revel in the kaleidoscopic opportunities the work provides, this composition offers more than a mere heady romp.
The program concludes with two duos for two violins and viola (the parts taken, respectively, by Friedemann, Reto, and Alexia) by Johann Paul Eichhorn (1787–1861), which, according to Friedemann Eichhorn’s notes, the composer (not related to him) wrote for two of his children (with father himself playing the viola part). Paganini, according to the modern Eichhorn, found the children captivating, and the first of these two trios echo one of his own repertoire staples, the Carnival of Venice. Eichhorn’s sons must have been alert musicians, because the Carnival of Venice trots out just about every one of Paganini’s violinistic tricks (including staccato runs, harmonics, and left-hand pizzicatos). Some of the variations seem to derive from Paganini’s original; all provide continual astonishment, not only at the highly developed technique they exploit, but in their buoyant textures and insouciant gestures, all transmitted by the Eichhorns and Kuppel with consummate graciousness. The second set of variations treats a march from Rossini’s Moses—but not the one chosen by Paganini for his famous set of variations on the G string; the duo bring a similar verve to this similarly demanding set.
Naxos’s vividly recorded (close, with a minimum of obscuring reverberation) program should appeal to those who delight in surfing the violin’s repertoire, to those who enjoy this kind of predominantly lightweight fare, and to those who simply wish to be astonished. Strongly recommended to them, but generally recommended to everyone else as well.