Whatever other expectations one may bring to any recording of Brahms' Violin Concerto, one expects the music to be good. After all, Brahms' Violin Concerto is one of the most popular and most durable of the great nineteenth century violin concertos, and no performance no matter how awful could possibly sink it. But Joachim's Violin Concerto is another matter. Though one of the greatest violinists of the nineteenth century and the player who gave the premiere of Brahms' Violin Concerto, Joachim's own work as a composer is almost entirely forgotten today, and thus his Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, "In the Hungarian Style," holds no implicit promise of greatness.
Nevertheless, it was a great idea for violinist Christian Tetzlaff to couple Brahms and Joachim's violin concertos together on this 2008 Virgin release. The familiarity of one of the most popular and unfamiliarity of one of the most forgotten violin concertos of the nineteenth century creates a splendid balance and a wonderful contrast for each other. And, amazingly, Brahms' work does not put Joachim's in the shade. While Brahms' Concerto's radiant lyricism and dramatic forms are, as always, immensely enjoyable, Joachim's Concerto's blazing themes and dashing virtuosity prove just as pleasing in their way, and in these exceptional performances at least, they sound almost aesthetically equal.
The credit for this must for the most part go to Tetzlaff. His strong technique, sweet tone, and irresistible enthusiasm make him a potent advocate for whatever work he plays, but he has something to say about both these works, and his performances here are thus driven by more than a flashy technique. With the firm support of Thomas Dausgaard leading the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Tetzlaff makes the case for equality of these works, showing that though Brahms may reach the greater emotional depths in his central Adagio than Joachim does in his central Romanza, Joachim may touch a stronger vein of rhythmic energy in his Finale alla Zingara than Brahms does in his closing Allegro giocoso. Recorded in rich, clear digital sound by Virgin Classics, both pieces on this disc deserve to be heard by anyone who enjoys nineteenth century violin concertos.