CD review: Thomas Zehetmair’s Schumann


First published in the Guardian on 24 March, 2016

Schumann’s Violin Concerto has a rough past. It was composed in 1853 but deemed so weird at the time that it wasn’t performed until 1937 when it was hijacked for Nazi propaganda. Nowadays advocates like Thomas Zehetmair give the troubled and soulful piece the love it deserves. He first recorded it for Teldec back in 1988 and recently helped prepare a new Urtext edition sorting out centuries of editorial meddling. His new account is warmer, more declamatory, more openly glorious in lyrical passages. He’s both soloist and conductor, and what’s fascinating is how he tells one story with his violin — passionate and resolute — while letting the orchestra hint at darker things. Listen to the crippling self-doubt revealed when the first movement suddenly dies away, for example. The disc also contains Schumann’s Phantasy for Violin and the sunny First Symphony; the Paris strings get a bit scraggly, but overall the playing is alert and light on its feet.