Potent characterisation sets this album apart from the competition

Frank Peter Zimmermann: Bartók, Martinů, Stravinsky


The Strad Issue: March 2024

Description: Potent characterisation sets this album apart from the competition

Musicians: Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin) Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jakub Hrůša

Works: Bartók: Rhapsodies nos.1 and 2. Martinů: Suite concertante; Meditation. Stravinsky: Violin Concerto

Catalogue number: BIS BIS-2657 (SACD)

The rarity here is the Suite concertante of Martinů, in its second, radically revised version of 1944, opening with the same Toccata–Aria sequence as Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and likewise written with Samuel Dushkin in mind, but coloured by an anxious lyricism entirely the composer’s own. Zimmermann’s performance valuably underlines points of both difference and correspondence between the two works, as well as the more intrinsically violinistic nature of Martinů’s writing. The bonus is the more romantically styled Meditation from the suite’s original version, hinting at the upheaval experienced by the composer in the intervening years.

Zimmermann’s account of the Stravinsky is tauter than most (Ehnes included), though never rhythmically straitjacketed. Inflections of vibrato and bolder touches of portamento round off the corners as if with Mozart rather than Bach in mind. What lifts it above most of the competition is the pungently characterised accompaniment of the Bamberg SO, and a recording perspective that keeps Zimmermann front and centre but allows him to duet with orchestral winds in the manner of a mature Mozart concerto. The twanging cimbalom takes on a continuo-like importance in Bartók’s Rhapsodies, where Zimmermann ‘speaks’ Hungarian in the phrasing no less expertly than his Czech for Martinů. It’s an outstanding album, successful in every regard.