, October 2010
This recording first appeared on the Philips label, and now re-emerges from Newton, a recently formed company based in The Netherlands, sourcing the riches of items deleted from larger company’s vaults and archives. Of the titles available so far, this has to be the least expected image for the cover design and if I’m not mistaken it would appear to be the underside of Scheveningen pier—a structure I wouldn’t normally associate with ‘the memory of an Angel’, though I suppose it does have a somewhat melancholy and abandoned feel to go along with the fishy smell.
Gidon Kremer’s ‘narrative’ playing style suits Berg’s emotional and angst-charged Violin Concerto perfectly, and his searing treble intensity and multi-layered expressiveness is given a thorough workout through this most marvellous of scores even where the first movement is taken at a more relaxed pace than with many other recordings. Colin Davis is a superbly sensitive accompanist, and he obtains the very best from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Berg’s orchestration is rich and colourful, but takes skilled balancing to obtain the kind of transparency and dynamic power and contrast we have here. I do however have a point to add to Gramophone magazine’s comment from the time: ‘The chorale is played with affecting restraint, the woodwind really hushed…’ Yes indeed, but those clarinets as they enter at 8:11 in the second movement are not well in tune enough to give me the goose-pimple effect for which I long in this crucial section.
Intonation in the brass and winds is occasionally on the margins in the Three Orchestral Pieces, but this is still a high-impact and effective performance. This is the work with which Berg responded to his teacher Schoenberg’s admonition against following a path of miniaturism, and the young composer responded with a remarkable score. The work, while still leaning on the example of Mahler to a certain extent, also reveals a mind exalting in the complexity of new thematic cross-fertilisations and explorations of mood and emotion which were new and personal.
The playing time on this disc is a bit skimpy, and even though the recording does come from a time before the CD had entirely taken over from LP records this would always have been a programme calling out for an extra filler of some kind. Classic versions of the Violin Concerto include those by Anne-Sophie Mutter on Deutsche Grammophon with the stunning Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and I still have a great deal of time and affection for Joseph Suk with the Czech Philharmonic and Karel Ancerl on Supraphon. This re-release doesn’t quite have the grandeur its august artistic team would suggest, but is certainly worth considering at mid price. Kremer and Davis very much create the mood and atmosphere demanded by Berg’s tragic and transcendent Violin Concerto, and the recording certainly stands the test of time, even with its slight ‘early digital’ treble sheen.