Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Violinist Nikolaj Znaider’s Stunning New CD of Brahms and Korngold Concertos

On February 3, Nikolaj Znaider, an exclusive recording artist with Sony/BMG Masterworks, releases his newest CD. On it, with Russian conductor Valery Gergiev leading the Vienna Philharmonic, Znaider performs violin concertos by two of Vienna ’s great Romantic composers, Johannes Brahms and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Less than two weeks later, Znaider makes his first U.S. concert appearances of the new year, playing the Brahms Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra under guest maestro Pinchas Steinberg, on February 12, 14, and 15 at Cleveland ’s historic Severance Hall. On April 3 and 4, they repeat the program in Miami , Florida , during the Orchestra’s annual spring residency at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Znaider most recently performed the Brahms Concerto in December, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Marin Alsop, before traveling to Europe . There he celebrated Felix Mendelssohn’s 200th anniversary, first in Denmark , and then with the Dresden Staatskapelle and members of the Israel Philharmonic in Dresden and Berlin , where he performed and conducted the Mendelssohn Concerto. Znaider plays the colossal Brahms Concerto frequently this season, whereas Korngold’s is on his schedule five times: three with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Gianandrea Noseda on March 27, 28 and 29, one at the Moscow Easter Festival on April 20 and one with the London Symphony Orchestra on May 8.

A world-class violinist for some time despite his young years, Znaider also trained as a conductor, and, after highly successful concerts in Minnesota earlier this season, he toured Northern Europe leading the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was also recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, with which he gives several concerts this season.

Znaider’s new recording of two great Viennese violin concertos is the first he’s made on a prized Guarneri “del Gesù” violin that once belonged to Fritz Kreisler, made available to him on permanent loan by the Royal Danish Theatre via the Velux Foundation. The fact that the immortal and quintessentially Viennese Kreisler used to own and perform on this instrument makes the new CD’s Vienna connection all the more meaningful to Znaider. (Although Korngold did not compose his concerto until after he’d emigrated to the U.S. , and although he wrote it for Kreisler’s rival, Jascha Heifetz, the composer remained a dyed-in-the-wool Viennese throughout his career, even in Hollywood ). The violin, made in 1734 and known in the violin world as the “ex-Kreisler”, has a sibling instrument in the collection of the Library of Congress, also made by the legendary Cremonese violin-maker around the same time, and which was also owned by Kreisler for some years.

Znaider is honored by the London Symphony Orchestra this spring with a festival residency during which he performs works by Brahms, Schoenberg, and Korngold. He speaks eloquently in a short video on the LSO site:
lso.co.uk/detailedeventinfo&showdetailstype=event&detailID=4601.

“There’s an element of my wanting to perform works that highlight a certain time and place that I find very interesting – turn-of-the-century Vienna – precisely where science and philosophy and music amalgamated more than anywhere else at any time in history – but cut off by the War. Brahms represents the highlight of the 300- or 400-year development of music history, then I take two composers who departed from his era each in his own way, in totally separate directions. Schoenberg – who had his own obsession with Brahms – mastered western classical music at such a young age that he had to break with it and come up with an entirely new system which to this day still sounds modern. Although the violin concerto is more than 70 years old, it still sounds modern – not contemporary, but modern! Then contrast that with the work by Korngold, who was heralded by Mahler himself as a Wunderkind. He went to Hollywood and was fantastically successful as a film composer, but as a Jew he could not return to Vienna in the ’30s. Then he wrote this violin concerto that sounds so ‘old-fashioned’ in such a beautiful way about ten years after the modern Schoenberg. Fascinating!”

A man of many interests, Nikolaj Znaider has been an avid practitioner of the Chinese martial art Kenpō for many years, and manages to stay in shape during his busy touring schedule. This winter and spring, after his Brahms concerts in Cleveland , he returns to Europe and switches to the less-often performed Schumann Concerto, which he plays with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande on February 18 and 20. A week later, he plays and conducts the Schumann Concerto with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, to which he returns in April for a new work by Jan Sandström. His LSO dates are in May, and many further engagement details are given below, including a season-ending performance of Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto in its centennial year.

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