14 April 2014

CD REVIEW: Felix Mendelssohn & John Adams – VIOLIN CONCERTOS (Chad Hoopes, violin; Naïve V 5368)

Felix Mendelsson & John Adams - VIOLIN CONCERTOS (Chad Hoopes, violin; Naïve V 5368)

FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847): Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 64 and JOHN ADAMS (b. 1947): Violin ConcertoChad Hoopes, violin; MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kristjan Järvi, conductor [Recorded at the MDR-Studio, Augustusplatz, Leipzig, Germany, in November 2013; Naïve V 5368; 1CD, 58:35; Available from Amazon, fnac, jpc, and major music retailers]

​Even in the unnerving, inconstant, cutthroat world of Classical Music, there is always space for prodigies whose gifts belie the years printed on their birth certificates. As much with Yo-Yo Ma and Sir Yehudi Menuhin as with Mendelssohn and Mozart, there has long been an undeniable fascination in witnessing the technical accomplishment of an adult musician emanating from a child's body. In many cases, however, the artistry does not mature in pace with the technique, and the freshness does not survive the journey into adulthood. Though he is yet in his teens, American violinist Chad Hoopes exhibits every quality necessary to be as a man a greater artist than he was as a boy. With this recording of Concerti by Felix Mendelssohn and John Adams, this gifted young man puts away childish things, as the Biblical conceit goes, and begins a new phase of a journey that seems destined to lead him to the highest levels of achievement and acclaim.

Mendelssohn's Opus 64 Concerto in E minor is familiar territory for virtually every musician who has ever held a violin with more than elementary interest. For a young violinist, approaching this Concerto is a bit like being the poor fellow whose grandiloquently verbose oration at Gettysburg in November 1863 was rightfully eclipsed by the two-and-a-half minutes of Abraham Lincoln's address. The early, prime, and late thoughts on the Concerto of almost every important violinist of the past century litter the work's discography, and every listener who loves the piece has a favorite performance—or a dozen favorite performances—ensconced on a pedestal, safe from the groping of pretenders. It is daunting to approach such an ubiquitous work with the legacies of many exceptional artists and their adherents’ prejudices grabbing at one's ankles, but if Mr. Hoopes is cowed in the slightest by the pressure of these circumstances it does not audibly affect his playing. In the frenetic opening movement (Allegro molto appassionato), in which the violinist enters straightaway without orchestral introduction, Mr. Hoopes immediately displays the energy and exuberance that Mendelssohn’s music requires. The clarity of Naïve’s recording enables Mr. Hoopes’s lean tone to be heard cleanly in the chromatic passages, and his playing is always audible above the superlative accompaniment of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. He and conductor Kristjan Järvi collaborate on setting tempi that reinforce the spirited nature of the music without disrupting the carefully-wrought thematic development. Mr. Hoopes plays Mendelssohn’s cadenza with rhapsodic breeziness, making light of the technical demands of the music, and he shapes the recapitulation and coda with imagination but close adherence to Mendelssohn’s rhythmic and dynamic markings. In the second movement (Andante), Mr. Hoopes and Maestro Järvi give an expansive reading of the music, using the transition to C major to broaden their exploration of the sentimental possibilities of the harmonic progressions. The emotional significance of the central segment in A minor is illuminated with transparency and poetry atypical for such a young performer, and Mr. Hoopes proves a consistently insightful musician. The third movement (Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace) benefits enormously from the youthful brilliance of Mr. Hoopes’s playing, but his phrasing discloses impressive technical sobriety. The innovative passages in which the soloist complements the orchestra are played by Mr. Hoopes with concentration equal to that with which he executes the most difficult solo lines. The final coda draws from Mr. Hoopes a rousing demonstration of virtuosity, ending the Concerto with alert pageantry.

Premièred in 1994, John Adams’s Violin Concerto is an unusual companion for Mendelssohn’s Second Concerto, but the profuse vein of originality that courses through the earlier composer’s music is also present to an astonishing degree in Adams’s Concerto. The opening movement, designated only with the metronome marking of ♩ = 78, is enigmatic, the solo lines undulating through the silken mist of the orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Hoopes manages the difficult double stops with excellent control, and, here and throughout the performance, his trills have perfect rhythmic precision. He burrows into the lyricism of the writing without shortchanging the mystery of the music, and the subtlety of his vibrato is ideal. As the music grows more extroverted, his bowing remains poised, and the purity of his intonation in chromatic passages pays extravagant dividends. The second movement (Chaconne: ‘Body Through Which the Dream Flows’) throbs with yearning conveyed through quietly grand phrases, exploiting the dark sonorities of the violin’s lower range. Mr. Hoopes plays the long melodic strands with the understated grace of a master of bel canto, and the slight frigidity of Adams’s orchestration—rendered with affection by the Orchestra and Maestro Järvi—underlines the desolation of the solo lines. The third movement (Toccare), a fast-paced, almost anxious piece that allows the soloist few moments of repose, gives Mr. Hoopes a vehicle to show off his bravura technique, and he takes advantage of every opportunity offered by the score with playing of consummate vividness. Here, the lilt of his double stops conjures thoughts of the music of Gershwin, and, when the trumpets and percussion introduce hints of Latino rhythms (the Concerto was co-commissioned by the New York City Ballet, incidentally), Mr. Hoopes responds with a facile sense of humor. The final minutes of the Concerto inspire him to playing of sparkling prowess that reveals Adams’s music to be equal to Mendelssohn’s in inventiveness if not in memorable tunefulness.

As a memento of fine work by an impressive young violinist, this recording of Concerti by Mendelssohn and Adams is a welcome release, one that is certain to find a prominent home in the recorded histories of both pieces. As evidence of a Wunderkind’s matriculation from prodigy to enduring artist of distinction, however, this disc is revelatory. Chad Hoopes transforms his violin into an earnestly individual instrument, and through its four strings he sings with inwardness, eloquence, and finely-spun beauty which most violinists with many more years of experience can only envy.