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Schumann’s problem child returns to the Symphony

In 1853, a few short years before succumbing to madness and a tragic early death, Schumann wrote a violin concerto for the brilliant young virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Joachim, his friend Brahms, and Schumann’s wife Clara — the three musicians most inclined to look favorably on anything the composer undertook — gave one another embarrassed glances (here I’m speculating) and shoved the concerto into a drawer, where it remained unplayed and practically unseen until 1937. The piece is still a problem child — formally awkward, prone to repetition, marked by long stretches of genuine lyrical inventiveness that sit uncomfortably alongside pages of uninspired note-spinning. The rhythmic profile in the opening movement was placid to a fault, taking no notice of the ways in which Schumann — intentionally or otherwise — upends the listener’s expectations of phrasing and proportion. In the finale, which recycles a limited bit of thematic material endlessly before expiring from boredom, no one on stage made any detectable effort to save Schumann from himself. The most effective stretch of the performance — and not at all coincidentally the concerto itself — came during the slow movement, in which Eberle brought grace and welcome ardor to the composer’s rapturous melodic writing. The only other time the Symphony has played Schumann’s Violin Concerto was in 1999, when Christian Tetzlaff made a vigorous argument on its behalf. Abbado favored robust rhythms in the outer movements while bringing a soulful, singing line to the slow movement; in the scherzo, clarinetist Carey Bell tossed off the main theme with casual suavity.

Article by By Joshua Kosman (c) Entertainment - Read full story here.