This early album from the ginger-haired Daniel Hope validates his status as Menuhin's heir. Where Menuhin was forward-looking when he played Bartok and joined forces with Ravi Shankar, Hope is advocating Schnittke and moving beyond minimalism in various crossover CDs for DG. It's too bad that Schnittke's name is likely to frighten prospective buyers off. He managed, like his great predecessor Shostakovich, to express Russian soul under conditions of duress, to further the models of symphony, concerto, and chamber music in an original modernist vein, and to span conventional harmony and avant-gardism.
The program consists of concertante works more than true concertos. Schnittke places a large emphasis on piano and harpsichord, sometimes leaving the violin in the background. Weill scores his concerto for a wind band that the violin often joins as equal partner. The other strain that unites Schnittke and Weill is their absorption of multiple styles, from the baroque concerto grosso to modern jazz. As essentially an Expresionistic composer, Weill unifies the Violin Cto. through its quasi-Hidemith utilitarian mood, which is quick, impersonal, and anti-sentimental. I don't find the work inspired, but the long cadenza that turns into a dialogue for violin and trumpet is innovative. Otherwise, we are in the world of Hindemith's Kammermusik, which is too functional for me.
Schnittke's two substantial works are the product of genius, however, and the only thing that keeps me form calling them masterpieces is that he worked at this high level much of the time. The Sonata for Violin and Chamber orchestra moves form dark to light, from near silence to a passionate outpouring, in an arc than any listener can follow emotionally, even if his post-Shostakovich idiom is tougher than Weill's. The sudden arrival of a sumptuous diatonic chord to ground the Largo is just one example of Schnittke's ability to move us. The Concerto Grosso no. 6 is a fascinating example of how to weave the past into the present. Much of it resembles Bartok's Divertimento or Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Cto. in presenting new harmonies wrapped inside familiar forms. The utter calm of Takemitsu's Nostalghia features Hope in a seamless cantilena that must appeal to Hope's minimalist tastes.
Hope is a special musician who stands out in the current landscape for his adventurousness and serious purpose. This is his most serious album, but that shouldn't deter you from experiencing what a modernist virtuoso like him - and Gidon Kremer, another strong Schnitke advocate - is all about.