A famous remark made about Schnabel was "You will never be a pianist, you are a musician," delivered by the great pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. I've felt that way about two violinists who transcended the role of dazzling fiddler: Joseph Szigeti and Yehudi Menuhin. (In all three cases this was also a discreet way of commenting on unreliable technique.) Daniel Hope could well be added to that list. With little regard for purity of sound, much less making notes that are always beautiful a la Mutter and Joshua Bell, Hope is capable of the most penetrating musical intelligence. I'd offer as prime evidence is knockout pairing of the Berg and Britten concertos from a few years ago; the rest comes from hearing him in concert, an intense and riveting experience.
Here he deliver s a concept album centered on the illustrious Victorian virtuoso Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), including one major work that he was closely involved in -- Bruch's evergreen Concerto no. 1 -- and a grouping of transcriptions and salon pieces, some with piano, some with orchestra. I've heard Hope resort to abrasive, raw tone when he feels that it's called for, and like both Dzigeti and Menuhin he gives us a "speaking" violin more than a lyrical or brilliant one. Not everyone will be impressed. The Bruch has long stretches of inward, reflective playing, especially in the middle movement, and throughout the listener is asked to come to the violinist more than the violinist is throwing himself at the listener. Any number of rival recordings (by Shaham, Perlman, and Vengerov, to name some outstanding ones) are more brilliant and extroverted. Few are as searching as Hope's; among them I would rank one by his mentor Menuhin, on EMI with Walter Susskind. The pupil doesn't surpass the master in this case, but Hope plays beautifully, the orchestra is well handled by the Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, and DG's sound is clear and well balanced.
I'm more iffy about the salon pieces and occasional music. All of it is pleasant and well done, and of course the Brahms Hungarian Dances are thrice-familiar. But if you are evoking an age of antimacassar, heliotrope, and potted palms, maybe the territory belongs more to Andre Rieu or bygone swoony showmen like Campoli. Hope's approach is not unromantic, but it's not nostalgically compelling, either. There's not enough gypsy flair in the Hungarian Dances, and I found the contributions from Clara Schumann and Joachim as composer pretty forgettable. The best item was the transcription of Schubert's beloved lied, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, where Hope really does sound like a human voice. He takes a nice turn on the viola to accompany Anne Sophie von Otter in Brahms's tender Wiegenlied Op. 91, o. 2, with the singer in good voice delivering a touching rendition. the send off is an orchestral arrangement of Dvorak's once ubiquitous Humoreske, a more nostalgic tune than which was never composed. I did more to increase my doubts about this concept album than to dispel them. Even so, I have the highest regard for Hope and was thoroughly involved in the concerto.