Frank Peter Zimmermann is not only an outstanding violinist, if not the most outstanding violinist personality in Germany, but also a belligerent artist who does not mince his words when it comes to clearly pointing out grievances. He gave an interview to the Süddeutsche Zeitung in May 2019 in which he unabashedly denounces the unpalatable sides of the recorded music market from the point of view of the artists marketed there. The interview ends with his elaboration on the record prize "Echo", which has meanwhile been withdrawn from circulation and is unabashedly sponsored by the relevant industry: "I have the impression that prizes like the Echo are massively manipulated. It's all fraud, with record companies colluding with each other. Maybe there's even money flowing in. That doesn't apply to all prizes; I was very happy about the German Record Critics' Award, for example. But I've since taken my five Echos to the landfill and personally watched them being crushed."
It should hardly come as a surprise that this belligerent artist brings a clearly defined imagination to the matter of interpreting compositions written for the violin. The result are performances that, with clear presentation and a high degree of musicality, give the listener the irrefutable impression of getting to the heart of the composition in question, of delivering an interpretation that is not only thoroughly appropriate to the subject matter, but ultimately exactly right. In this approach, virtuosity serves the purpose and is never an objective in itself.
Those who think that one should not praise interpreters so highly should listen to the three compositions on Frank Peter Zimmermann's new album, of which the two Martinů violin concertos receive congenial support from the formidable Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under its Czech principal conductor Jakub Hrůša, who is one of the Czech composer's savviest interpreters of the Czech composer not only because of his genes. Both concertos were written for prominent contemporary violinists of the composer in the first half of the twentieth century. Having ultimately experienced the presence of the first concerto's commissioner Samuel Dushkin during his compositional work as exceedingly problematic, Martinů was careful not to grant this privilege to the second concerto's dedicatee Mischa Elman, especially since violinistically - Martinů was himself a trained and practicing violinist - there was no need for it, which prompted Brahms as a pianist of his day to successfully involve his violinist friend Joseph Joachim in the composition of his Violin Concerto.
The album opens with a stirring performance of the better-known second concerto, in which the restless, dissonant chords of the orchestra are broken by the soloist's more lyrical contribution, beguilingly gently conceived. The driving force of this concerto proves to be the irresistible flow of the music, which wisely refrains from emphasizing virtuosity despite all the demands on the performer's technique. This demand of the composition finds in Frank Peter Zimmermann the ideal interpreter, who delivers the concerto with sovereign ease. This is also true of the first concerto, which with its rather classicistic view is sometimes reminiscent of Stravinsky's only violin concerto, composed shortly before, but which makes considerably higher demands on the soloist's technique.
The third piece on the album is Bártok's late solo sonata, which is considered decidedly brittle and makes great demands on the violinist's playing technique. These are mastered seemingly effortlessly by Frank Peter Zimmermann, who takes away the sonata's sonorous bristliness and replaces it with elegance, but without robbing it of its special character.
Of the just three currently available recordings of the two Martinů violin concertos, this is the most convincing all around, and has what it takes to enable the Czech composer, until recently not much regarded internationally, to be encountered more often on the concert platforms when they become accessible again after the present Corona mess.
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Jakub Hruša, conductor