Monday 21 March 2016

On a new release from Deutsche Grammophon, Daniel Hope gives us a carefully thought out and often surprising selection of works that connect with Yehudi Menuhin in a fitting tribute to this great musician on the centenary of his birth

Yehudi Menuhin was born on 22nd April 1916 in New York City taking violin instruction at the age of four from Sigmund Anker. His first public appearance at the age of only seven was as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Louis Persinger (1887-1966) agreed to teach him before Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu took over his tuition.

His first concerto recording, of Max Bruch's G minor  concerto, was made in 1931but it was his recording of Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor made in 1932, at the age of just 16 years, with the composer himself conducting that has become a classic. He went on to make many recordings both as violinist and conductor.

Violinist Daniel Hope  was born in Durban, South Africa but grew up in London where his mother Eleanor was engaged by Yehudi Menuhin to be his secretary, later becoming his long-time manager.

As a child, Hope used to play with Menuhin’s grandchildren and, in 1978, took up violin lessons with a neighbour, Sheila Nelson, a renowned teacher. Six years later, he entered London’s Royal College of Music, where he was tutored by Russian masters Itzhak Rashkovsky, Felix Andrievsky and Grigory Zhislin. He finished his studies at the Royal Academy of Music, where he worked with Zakhar Bron.  

In 1985 he had been invited by Menuhin to join him in a programme of Bartók duos for German television. This launched a long association between the two violinists that would eventually take in more than 60 concerts. In 1999 Hope performed a Schnittke Concerto in Düsseldorf as part of what was to be Menuhin’s final concert.

Daniel Hope has, of course, gone on to forge his own impressive career, appearing all over the globe with the world’s most renowned orchestras and conductors and winning numerous prizes for his recordings.

To celebrate the centenary of Yehudi Menuhin’s birth Daniel Hope has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon  a disc of works associated with the great violinist and conductor entitled Daniel Hope - My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin.

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Menuhin owned the manuscript score of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor which he bought in 1951. The Kammerorchester Basel , directed by Daniel Hope from the violin, brings a crisp, purposeful opening to the Allegro with some beautifully shaped phrases. Hope brings a lovely singing tone to the solo part finding some fine timbres as he moves through passages of fast flowing, glowing passages with some wonderful moments, not least in the fine cadenza.  

Hope builds the orchestral opening of the Andante beautifully. When the violin enters he brings some exquisitely controlled phrases, delivering some quite lovely violin sonorities and harmonies.  

There is an infectious, dancing Allegro with some especially fleet playing from both soloist and orchestra and a finely shaped cadenza.

This is a very fine D minor concerto full of tremendous spirit.

Bechara El-Khoury’s Unfinished Journey for violin and strings was written after Menuhin’s death in 1999, commissioned by Hope and the Gstaad Menuhin Festival to mark the 10th anniversary of his passing. With Hope directing the Kammerorchester, Basel from the violin, there are some lovely exotic harmonies and textures as the piece slowly unfolds, Hope bringing a lovely subtle passion to this music with moments of exquisite hushed control – quite wonderful.

Steve Reich seems initially an odd choice for this disc but apparently Menuhin loved his Duet for two violins and strings which the composer had dedicated to him.  Daniel Hope is joined by violinist Simos Papanas and the Kammerorchester Basel where they bring some very fine harmonies and textures to Reich’s minimalist piece. There is a fine blending and weaving of strings, slowly gaining a rhythm with constantly evolving ideas.

Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 violins and strings in A minor was another favourite of Menuhin’s in that it gave the opportunity for him to give his pupils concert experience alongside him. Daniel Hope and Simos Papanas are again joined by the Kammerorchester Basel with Emanuele Forni (baroque guitar and lute) and Naoki Kitaya (harpsichord). There is a light footed, light-hearted Allegro delivered with such an exquisite light touch, beautifully shaped before a plaintive Larghetto e spiritoso with some finely controlled hushed passages. The Allegro brings some fine incisive playing with these soloists weaving some beautifully controlled phrases, finely shaped.

Menuhin also had a great affection for John Tavener’s Song Of The Angel for soprano, violin and strings, written in 1994 for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. Here Daniel Hope is joined by soprano Chen Reiss  and the Kammerorchester Basel. As the soprano sings ‘Alleluia’ the solo violin and strings provide a fine frame, adding subtle dissonances in this beautifully done performance of this remarkable work.

Hans Werner Henze had met Menuhin on a number of occasions and his Adagio adagio for violin, cello and piano finds Daniel Hope, cellist Christiane Starke and pianist Jacques Ammon  bringing a gently rolling Serenade with much of a romantic feel. These players find many lovely nuances before the piano develops some more forward looking harmonies that are picked up by the other players.

Given Menuhin’s close connection with Edward Elgar no tribute disc would be complete without a work form this composer. We are told that Menuhin had an especially soft spot for Salut d'amour, Op. 12 here given in an arrangement for violin, piano and strings by Christian Badzura.  Daniel Hope and Jacques Ammon are joined by members of the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin  bringing a rather different and entirely enjoyable version which is finely played with much sensitivity.

As mentioned above, Daniel Hope has a special connection with Menuhin and Béla Bartók’s 44 Duos for 2 violins. For this recording the young talented violinist Daniel Lozakovitj is the partner for Hope in three of the Duos. There is a crisp, vibrant, idiomatic performance of No. 35. Rutén Kolomejka, a highlight of this disc. A finely shaped No. 28. Bánkódás  builds through some very fine sonorities in a quite beautiful performance. In No. 36. Szól A Duda – Változata, these two players bring more fine harmonies and sonorities as they hurtle through this piece with some really light textures.

Menuhin’s teacher, George Enescu is represented by his Hora Unirii for violin and piano.  Jacques Ammon brings a finely sprung piano part to which Hope adds a lovely, equally well sprung melody as these two develop this little piece.

Menuhin apparently very much admired gypsy fiddlers, an aspect of which is brought out in Jo Knümann’s Rumänisch for violin, mandolin, piano and strings with Daniel Hope, Avi Avital (mandolin) , Jacques Ammon and members of the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin really throwing themselves into the music. After a fleeting orchestral opening, Hope, Ammon and Avital slowly develop the music through some wonderfully shaped Rumanian folk inspired ideas before finding a fast and furious dance with some absolutely terrific playing, great fun.

Maurice Ravel: Kaddisch from Deux mélodies hébraïques for violin and piano was chosen by Hope when, at Menuhin’s last concert he was encouraged to play an encore. Daniel Hope weaves a lovely melody in the opening with pianist Jacques Ammon adding a sensitive accompaniment. Hope brings a real emotional edge to his playing with some exquisite control towards the coda. Perhaps he is remembering the occasion when Menuhin sat amongst the orchestra at his last concert listening to Daniel Hope playing this encore. 

This is a carefully thought out and often surprising selection of works that connect with Yehudi Menuhin in a fitting tribute to this great musician. The recordings are excellent and there are booklet notes by Humphrey Burton on The Man, The Master and his Music as well as facsimiles of personal notes, documents and photographs relating to Daniel Hope and Yehudi Menuhin. 

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