By Mary Nemet
Joseph Joachim: Fantasies on Irish and Hungarian Themes for Violin & Orchestra
(Piano reduction) Bärenreiter, €26.95
The creations of a famous soloist and leader of his quartet, Joseph Joachim’s compositions took second place to his extensive concertizing. However in addition to his well-known cadenzas to the major violin concertos, he penned a sizeable number of works, including three violin concertos, six overtures, and chamber music. His distinctive gifts are also found in shorter works such as these youthful fantasias, composed for his own use, and written in the flamboyant style and traditions of Paganini and Ernst.
Both the Hungarian and Irish fantasias have an obscure provenance. Left unpublished during Joachim’s lifetime, in 1933 the Berlin Hochschule acquired the manuscripts; it is an institution that Joachim had founded, and the music was possibly part of a bequest from the composer’s son Johannes.
Two Scottish tunes are the main themes of the “Irish’” Fantasia: “John Anderson my Jo” and “The Bluebells of Scotland.” Joachim had titled it Fantasia on Scotch Airs in his London premiere program in 1852, but there are some Irish-sounding moments; perhaps the overlap is intentional—wishing to please audiences across all borders.
There are Irish ditties, such as the wistful “Elves’ Song,” which appears in the same melancholy Dorian mode as the Scottish “John Anderson” tune. Intent on creating popular works, no doubt Joachim hoped the work would hold great appeal for English listeners. Similarly, the young 21-year-old Joachim traded on his Hungarian origins, well aware that the style hongrois was all the rage in European cities. It met his need for virtuosic display as the “Hungarian lad,” as Mendelssohn jocularly called him.
The young virtuoso won high praise for his many performances in London, Hanover, Hamburg, and Weimar. “Well-crafted, with power, depth, and intimacy, Herr Joachim mastered all difficulties with a skill bordering on the miraculous,” was only one of many critics’ accolades. Potpourri of popular airs and variations were not Joachim’s chosen genre but “when one disregards audiences’ tastes they will stay away next time,” wrote his uncle Bernhard Figdor. With the eventual decline in popularity of virtuoso fantasies, Joachim turned to more serious works: his concertos, overtures, and chamber music.
In 1945, the Hungarian and Irish fantasias resurfaced at the new university in Lodz, Poland. Only in 1989 were they re-discovered, although garnering scant attention. Violinist and editor Katharina Uhde has brought them back into the limelight with these meticulously produced Bärenreiter urtext editions. Her informative preface details their provenance, while her in-depth performance-practice notes cover the fantasias’ extensive use of bowings, such as portato, firm up and down bow, and flying staccato, sautillé, spiccato, and ricochet. Double-stops, vibrato, portamento slides, ad-lib cadenzas, and rubato are all put under the microscope in Uhde’s rigorous and insightful scholarship.
Devotees of Joachim and the golden age of virtuoso performance will delight in Bärenreiter’s beautifully produced, clear printing, offering a window into that great performer’s strikingly imaginative mind and passionate heart.
Pablo de Sarasate: Romanza Andaluza (Spanish Dance No. 3),
Op. 22, No. 1, for Violin & Piano
G. Henle Verlag, €7.50
Sarasate’s Spanish Dances are among the most popular pieces in the violin repertoire.
Spurred on by the huge success of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, in 1877 publisher Simrock commissioned Sarasate to write a set of dances. Not surprisingly, they too achieved great commercial success and wide audience appeal. Sarasate wrote his dances in contrasting pairs, the best-known of which are “Jota Navarra” and, included here, “Romanza Andaluza.”
Penned while on a Scandinavian concert tour in 1878, they won immediate favor and the highly effective and lilting Romanza has remained a favorite with player and listener alike. Combining a beguiling folk melody with the stirring intensity of dance-rhythm, full of bravura character and charm, this gem inspires the violinist to explore the unique heritage of the Spanish virtuoso-composer. Its exotic and continuous rhythms in the piano part were later used by Saint-Saëns in his Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Double-stops in thirds and sixths enrich the harmony, giving the impression of a duo singing a dramatic song.
Meticulously edited by Peter Jost, with an informative Preface by Maria Nagore Ferrer, this edition includes a supplementary violin part fingered by Ingolf Turban. It is conveniently printed on the reverse side of two fold-out pages, thus dispensing with page turns. While idiomatic for the most part, there are one or two fingering anomalies. Based on the autograph preserved in the Municipal Archive in Pamplona, Spain, this beautiful dance is here fastidiously printed by Henle in its customary exemplary manner. —MN
Johannes Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 18
G. Henle Verlag, €32 (score & parts)
In 1859 the 26-year-old Brahms followed his youthful Piano Trio Op. 8 with his second published chamber-music work: a string sextet. His publisher at the time, Julius Grimm, sent the composer this enthusiastic message: “I was delighted by the movements of your sextet. The Scherzo is fresh and exerts an irresistible pull on me.” Brahms’ close friend Joachim also reacted very positively, announcing that he wanted to perform it soon. Its premiere also garnered praise from the critics as “one of the most beautiful works by the young composer.” His dear friend Clara Schumann, who was present at its first performance, also commented, “It was even more beautiful than I anticipated, and my expectations were already high.”
Published by Simrock in 1861 with fingerings and bowings overseen by Joseph Joachim, the sextet became one of Brahms’ most popular works and has remained so to this day—even overshadowing its much later sister piece, the second string sextet in G, Op. 36.
Why has it retained such appeal to players and listeners alike? Perhaps its origins and mellow atmosphere, inspired by pleasant walks in the woods around Detmold, Germany, contributed to its mellifluous charms. Its unusual scoring was also a drawcard. Brahms’ illustrious predecessors had composed many quartets, but not a single sextet. Spohr and Boccherini had written in this genre, and perhaps Brahms opted in because of its rarity.
Spared the shadow of Beethoven’s ghost (Brahms wrote only two string quartets), the new work and its creator scored a success—deservedly so, with its radiant opening movement offering an abundance of contrasting melodies, often featuring one player or another, at other times blending into the ensemble as one.
The slow movement, Andante ma moderato, is a set of variations, a format that Brahms often used, based on a Hungarian melody and rhythms—another of his favorite styles. The short and ebullient Scherzo with its animated trio and even faster coda also features high-spirited folk music from local sources. In the final Rondo, marked “grazioso,” Brahms chooses elegance rather than the more dramatic mood that would customarily close such a large four-movement work. Yet in the Rondo he allows the sextet to conclude in ebullient virtuosic style.
Henle’s handsome, unfettered score and parts will be embraced by lovers of Brahms’ chamber music and especially appreciated by professional performers and connoisseurs for its fastidious research
and scholarship. —MN
Angelo Bertalotti: 30 Sonatinas for Violin & Viola
UT Orpheus, €15.95
Publisher UT Orpheus specializes in meticulous reprinting of early music sourced from prestigious Italian libraries. Italian composer and teacher Angelo Michele Bertalotti established his fame as a singer in his hometown of Bologna, Italy, with these 30 brief single-movement Sonatinas, originally published in 1744 as vocal exercises for soprano and alto. After learning the art from Bologna’s best teachers, Bertalotti then traveled to Rome to further his studies, and was employed there as a soloist and in choirs. On his return to Bologna, he enjoyed a career spanning 40 years.
In the field of music education, Bertalotti’s Solfeggi exercises were taught from the 19th century onward, notably in Germany and Hungary, and continue to be used today. Thus his canonical or fugal single movements in the form of études retain their value as a choral method. The unaltered lyrical form of the originals is recreated here by Andrea Bornstein for violin and viola. In a country noted for its singers and its violins and violinists, this is entirely fitting.
The duos work well in this format with keys ranging from C-, G-, and B-flat major, A, D, and E minor, with appealing modulations creating different moods and harmonic textures. This collection of short pieces is an effective and delightful addition to the scant repertoire for violin and viola. Most are in common time with some exceptions; a few lively dance tunes in 3/8 and 6/4 time and a delightful Siciliano style in 6/8 rhythm are among my favorites. Duettists will surely welcome these appealing little gems from Bertalotti into their collections. —MN