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Brahms Violin Concerto Op 77, Double Concerto Op 102

Julia Fischer (violin)
Daniel Mueller-Schott ('cello)

Netherlands Phil / Yakob Kreizberg

Pentatone 5186066

This disc has won many plaudits, but not everyone will warm equally to it. Its virtues are modern; its success may indicate the prevalence of modern taste in critical opinion. The closeness of the relation between soloist(s) and orchestra, the intimacy of the approach, the conscious lack of showiness, the effortlessness of the technical command – it is interesting, and generally welcome that these have so won critics’ hearts.

Those who want a more fevered approach will remain unmoved, for example, by the rapid tempo of the chorale-like slow movement from the Double Concerto, or the lack of struggle in the Violin Concerto’s first movement. The violin concerto, with its obvious heroism, is a much more straightforward work to interpret; one can think of many fewer truly classic versions of the Double Concerto. The latter work better suits the cool intellectualism of the Fishcer/ Mueller-Schott team, and makes the best possible coupling. Again, the sense of affinity between the two soloists, neither stealing the limelight, nor lacking in commitment, is impressive.

Thomas Zehetmair, who has two versions of the violin concerto recently issued (one re-issued), offers more or less the contrary view. The new version, where he also directs the  Northern Sinfonia, shows him at his most expansive and openly virtuosic. The older Teldec version, where Dohnanyi conducts the Cleveland, and which is now re-issued in a Warner bargain box with the symphonies, is a useful reference in showing this view is no accident. In this case, the larger orchestra, and the presence of a conductor rein Zehetmair in, while the more recessed recorded quality do not offer the raw excitement of the Northern Sinfonia disc.

Whose version of the endlessly-recorded Violin concerto is your favourite? If you like the relatively recent Mutter version recorded in New York, or –say- Perlman or Stern, you will probably go for the new Zehetmair, complete with its rough edges. If you were impressed by the Krebbers / Haitink disc, which went to the top of many critics’ lists for its understated musicality, you will see the Fischer as a worthy heir. This is also true of the characteristics of the recordings – the solo instruments are less prominent in Fischer than is Zehetmair’s violin, the overall sound smoother of the Netherlands Philharmonic than that of the Northern Sinfonia.

Whether either of these two very good CDs offers a truly original view of works right at the centre of the repertoire is another matter. In any case, it would be surprising if either disappointed any buyer.

Ying Chang

See CD details of the Zehetmair / Northern Sinfonia disc here and review of the coupling (Schumann Symphony No 4)