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Berg, Britten: Violin Concertos ~ Hope

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 16, 2004
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Product Details

  • Performer: Daniel Hope
  • Orchestra: BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Paul Watkins
  • Composer: Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten
  • Audio CD (March 16, 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Warner Classics
  • ASIN: B0001BFI64
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,426 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Santa Fe Listener HALL OF FAME on January 9, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I don't think this 2003 recording from Daniel Hope was much noticed on our side of the Atlantic. The catalog is full of notable versions of the Berg Violin Concerto, and the Britten is almost never played here. But in all respects this is an ear-opening experience. Hope and the cellist-turned-conductor Paul Watkins are protoges of the great Yehudi Menuhin, and they have picked up his enormous integrity and spiritual directness.

However they inherited their style, here is a perfect amalgam of conductor and soloist. They have set out to clarify the complexities of the Berg by merging violin and orchestra into a single vloice (the miking reflects this by not forcing Hope into the spotlight), and for the first time I found it possible to follow Berg's imagination from beginning to end. Not that the erading feels studied or academic. Hope, born in 1974, belongs to a generation of musicians for whom the work's thorny idiom comes as naturally as Bach. Compared to his free, flexible, lucid, reading, those from Stern, Perlman, and Mutter seem stilted and even confused.

Hope brings similar revelations to the Britten, which he plays -- as he does the Berg -- much more inwardly than expected. Nothing is done for show, and yet every measure is totally involving. Britten wrote in harmonies that are modernist but more conventional than Berg's -- his violin concerto followed Berg's by three years. On hearing the world premiere in Barcelona in 1936, the young Britten described the Berg as "shattering" and "sublime." Without imitating it, Britten wrote a work that can be just as mysterious and almost as devastating. The two are linked by their unnerving, grief-tinged, at times harrowing reaction to the Nazi era.
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Format: Audio CD
Why Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto, Opus 15 is not a staple of the orchestra repertoires around the world remains a mystery. It is seldom performed, is rich in inventive writing, contains passages of striking virtuosity for the performer, and contains some of Britten's most beautiful melodic lines. It may take an evening with a live performance (as recently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic , Midori as soloist) to stimulate classical music lovers to reconsider the excellence of this work, or it may take hearing a performance on recording as overwhelmingly beautiful as this coupling of the Britten with the better known and more often performed Alban Berg by the young Daniel Hope to lift the work to the public conscience. Whatever reason brings the listener back to this rather early work by Benjamin Britten is rewarded with an appreciation with just how extraordinary is this concerto.

Daniel Hope is an artist's artist, placing the composer's intentions first and 'showmanship' last. His reading of both the Berg and Britten are played with a clarity of tone and phrasing that allows him to move from the technically 'impossible' passages into the lyrical ones with complete ease. Of note is the manner in which Hope is in conversation with the orchestra (here the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Watkins) during the Part II Adagio of the Berg where the orchestra is in Bach like chorale while the ornamentation is from the precise writing for the violin. Or both the opening and closing passages of the Britten when the silences and sustained lines are of paramount importance.

Others may hail the impressive Vengerov recording (coupling the Britten with the Walton Viola concerto) as more exciting, but for this listener the intimacy Daniel Hope achieves here is overwhelmingly beautiful. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, November 08
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This is the first recording of the critical edition of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, correcting errors that the composer certainly would have made had he lived. An example of the kind of errors, recorded in the booklet, is that the composer failed to copy two ledger lines and an octave sign to the manuscript full score.

Alban Berg was completing work on his opera Lulu when he received the commission to write the concerto from Louis Krasner. The offer was especially tempting as Berg's music was performed with less frequency, thanks to the Nazis. The chances of Lulu being performed were slight, so the commission was a welcomed offer. Much has been made of the influence the death of Mannon Gropius (daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius) had on the concerto, as evidenced by the dedication "to the memory of an angel." Berg decided to make the concerto a kind of requiem for Mannon; however, he also included autobiographical elements. The full score was completed on August 11, 1935. Days later, the composer was stung by an insect and the wound turned into an abscess that later led to blood poisoning. Berg died just days after returning to Vienna on December 14.

The Violin Concerto is a remarkable mix of 12-tone and tonal melodies, mixing waltzes and folk melodies with a Bach chorale. This recording of the concerto was recently cited by Gramophone in the May 2010 issue as their choice for the best performance. Daniel Hope is intense indeed and Paul Watkins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra turn in a startling performance. The final bars are magical. The care with which the orchestra and soloist phrase and color the music is something not to be missed.

Benjamin Britten was present at the premiere performance of Berg's Violin Concerto in April 1936 in Barcelona.
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