Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64

Media Review / Comparison


2012-08-15 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-08-02 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-04 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-07 — Brushed up for better readability

Recordings:

I currently have three CDs with recordings of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy‘s Violin Concerto in E minor op.64:

The most recent acquisition is with Christian Tetzlaff and Paavo Järvi — I purchased that CD after hearing Tetzlaff with that piece in a concert in the Tonhalle in Zurich (2012-01-11, with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich under Ton Koopman) — hence this review.

Movements:

The three movements in this popular composition are

  1. Allegro molto appassionato — Più presto — Presto
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro non troppo — Allegro molto vivace

Here are my comments on the above recordings:


Fritz Kreisler (1926)

Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin concertos, Kreisler, Blech, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, op.61
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64

Fritz Kreisler, Leo Blech, Orchester der Berliner Staatsoper (Historical Recordings 1926)

Naxos historical 8.110909 (CD, mono); ℗ / © 2000
Booklet: 4 pp., English
Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin concertos, Kreisler, Blech, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


It is amazing to listen to this recording from 1926, to hear how successful the restoration of the sound was: sure, it’s mono only, but especially the fast movements don’t sound as if they were recorded 86 years ago!

Notes on the Performance

  1. In the first movement, the violin part features broader articulation than the recent recordings, but the interpretation does not sound all that old, the vibrato is not unusually strong! There are some intonation issues — but for one, artists and listeners at the time were not conditioned for near perfect interpretations to the degree that we are now, the recording conditions in the 20s must have been horrible — plus, there was certainly no possibility to correct errors by taking a snippets from multiple recording sessions (one should consider this a live recording)! And yes, there are clear indications of Zeitgeist, with some rubati, rushed passages, and of course more portamenti than one would use or tolerate now. ****
  2. In the slow movement, the violin is heavily dominating, the orchestra is pretty faint, in the background: the recording team obviously intended to show off Kreisler’s lyrical, singing tone. I like this for its historical value, but frankly, the vibrato and the excessive portamenti / glissandi are at the brink of being irritating. *** (for its historic value)
  3. Last movement: an amazingly “objective” interpretation, clear, well articulated, virtuoso, well sounding violin (with too much focus in the recording, though). ****
Timing: 12:09 — 7:44 — 6:49 (total: 26:40)
Rating: 3.7 / 5 (not absolute, but partly for its historic value!)

Viktoria Mullova (2002)

Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin concertos, Mullova, Gardiner, CD, coverLudwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, op.61
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64

Viktoria Mullova, John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (2002)

Philips 473 872-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2003
Booklet: 16 pp., en/fr/de
Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin concertos, Mullova, Gardiner, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


Viktoria Mullova and John Eliot Gardiner recorded the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos in 2002.

Notes on the Performance

  1. First movement: The tempo here is notably slower than in the other two (maybe more Allegro, molto appassionato [with comma] than Allegro molto appassionato??) — but it gives Viktoria Mullova the opportunity to play out her very careful, detailed articulation — glad to see that she is entering the usual speed race in this composition! Her violin clearly has the nicest, most beautiful sound in this comparison — but some of this may be due to the recording technique and the excellent sound management: also Gardiner’s orchestra profits from this (this is the recording with the most depth and breadth in sound) — though period instruments and a smaller orchestra most certainly are crucial for attaining transparent and colorful sound. Excellent recording! *****
  2. Slow movement: Alas, this really is Andante — excellent! The movement lives, it is not “celebrated” — and the violin sound is beautiful / excellent again. *****
  3. Last movement: for most listeners, the first reaction to this performance will be “isn’t that too slow??” But then, you should read the tempo annotation Allegro non troppo — and that’s what this is! It pays for the artists to read the score — and the listener gets rewarded with an exquisite, detailed, well articulated, sounding performance, where most other artists enter a speed race, rushing over details which then are hard to hear on CD, let alone in a concert! Very well done! *****
Timing: 12:52 — 7:06 — 7:11 (total: 27:09)
Rating: 5.0 / 5

Christian Tetzlaff (2008)

Mendelssohn / Schumann: Violin concertos, Tetzlaff, Järvi, CD, coverRobert Schumann: Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO 1; Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra, op.131
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64

Christian TetzlaffPaavo Järvi, RSO Frankfurt (live recordings, 2008)

Ondine ODE 1195-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Booklet: 20 pp., en/de
Mendelssohn / Schumann: Violin concertos, Tetzlaff, Järvi, CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


Christian Tetzlaff and Paavo Järvi recorded the Beethoven and Schumann concertos in 2008.

Notes on the Performance

  1. First movement: Christian Tetzlaff’s bow technique is impeccable, and I love the sound of his violin (modern, Peter Greiner) — especially the low registers it has a remarkably warm, full tone!  There are some intonation impurities in high peak notes (early in the movement) — but one should keep in mind that this is a live recording! ****
  2. Slow movement: Too bad Christian Tetzlaff’s vibrato is so strong — this is irritating! And the tempo is Poco adagio rather than Andante. ***
  3. Last movement: For me, the best movement in this performance — virtuoso, joy- and playful, and a violin that has no problem sounding even in the fastest passages (the tempo is very fast, indeed). ****
Timing: 12:09 — 7:56 — 6:26 (total: 26:28)
Rating: 3.7 / 5

Conclusion

My clear favorites among these artists are Viktoria Mullova and John Eliot Gardiner!



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