Recordings of Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, are abundant, and even the pairing with the rarer Robert Schumann Violin Concerto, WoO 23, of 1853 are not as infrequent as they used to be. The thorny Schumann concerto has undergone a reevaluation upward, and plenty of players now concur with the judgment of Yehudi Menuhin: "This concerto is the historically missing link of the violin literature; it is the bridge between the Beethoven and the Brahms concertos, though leaning more towards Brahms." Violinist Carolin Widmann who (like the ECM label on which the album appears) has focused mostly on contemporary music, takes up the challenge of providing something new here, and she meets it. The central fact of the recording is that Widmann conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe from the violin. Others have done this before, but few have pursued the implications of the technique as far as Widmann has: the performances are unusually light and transparent, and they are perhaps thus in accord with the sounds an orchestra of the middle 19th century might have produced. Sample the unusually lively, sprightly reading of the Mendelssohn concerto's finale.
Akiko Suwanai (born in 1972) is one of the brightest violinists to have emerged in the late 20th century, winning the Tchaikovsky International Competition, the youngest person to do so, in 1990. She has gone on to an impressive concert and recording career that encompasses both traditional repertoire and world premieres. Her 2006 album J.S. Bach: Violin Concertos was an instant success. Her performance is impressive: incisive, nuanced, and idiomatic. Her tone has an appealing warmth, but she remains true to the character of the music and doesn't lapse into Romantic tone quality or interpretations.
It is more than twenty years since Solti last recorded Così for Decca, and if that earlier version was far from ideally cast, this new one more than makes amends. Above all, it has a commanding Fiordiligi in Renée Fleming, who conveys all the tragic vulnerability of this central character. Her performance of the great second-act rondo ‘Per pietà’ would be enough to melt the hardest of hearts. Anne Sofie von Otter and Olaf Bär are in fine form, too; and while Adelina Scarabelli is not exactly a mistress of disguises (she scarcely alters her voice at all for Despina’s part as the mesmeric doctor), her vitality is irresistible. More contentious is the Ferrando of Frank Lopardo. True, he can scale down his voice admirably, but all too often he lacks a genuine sense of line, and his intonation is unreliable.
For those that prefer to hear these works on piano rather than harpsichord, you can hardly find more enjoyable, illuminating, and elegant performances than these. Andras Schiff has surely become one of the most prominent proponents of J.S. Bach on the piano and its hard to believe these particular discs were ever allowed to slip from commercial availability. Their re-issue here is reason to rejoice. It is with good reason that another chapter in the career of Andras Schiff has started recently with his new series of Beethoven Sonatas on ECM, and of course more Bach. He is a true master, and the Bach Concerto recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, led by Schiff himself, exemplify this and count as essential listening.
As Yannick Nézet-Séguin continues to explore the Romantic symphonic repertoire, it becomes increasingly apparent that he has a strong affinity for German composers, something not readily guessed of this Canadian maestro. There might be an underlying connection between his recordings of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, for which he has received considerable attention and acclaim, and this 2014 Deutsche Grammophon album of the four symphonies of Robert Schumann, which shows Nézet-Séguin as a strong advocate for this somewhat discounted symphonist.
"In keeping with the Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, the C Major Concerto was composed for the series of Lenten subscription concerts given by Mozart in 1765. This was an extraordinarily busy and successful period of Mozart's life, as we can gauge from a series of letters sent by his father Leopold to Mozart's sister Nannerl, now married and living with her husband in St. Gilgen. "Every day there are concerts; and the whole time is given up to teaching, music, composing and so forth…It is impossible for me to describe the rush and the bustle."…"
For these revelatory performances - captured live at acclaimed concerts in Paris - he conducts the superb Chamber Orchestra of Europe, one of the world’s preeminent chamber orchestras. Taking a fresh perspective on familiar music, Yannick Nézet-Séguin challenges the conventional view on the composer’s symphonies.
Harnoncourt has already shown himself to be quite the Dvorak interpreter in other recordings, but this one may trump them all. With the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in blazing form, these performances show why these pieces are often used as encores.