Edith Peinemann

Edith Peinemann’s early life and training on the violin followed an unremarkable path: she (like so many others) was taught initially by her father and went on to a relatively low-key conservatory education (with Heinz Stanske, then Max Rostal at London’s Guildhall School). Since winning the ARD Competition in 1956 she has performed with dozens of orchestras and renowned conductors and toured worldwide, also appearing frequently at major music festivals. Certain things do mark her out, however. In terms of recognition, she is one of an elite group of violinists to have been honoured by the award of the coveted Plaquette Eugène Ysaÿe (David Oistrakh, Kogan and Grumiaux being the only other previous recipients); as for her playing, it is her utter commitment in performance and the resulting depth and strength of sound that make her a great violinist, particularly in big post-Romantic and twentieth-century repertoire.

Peinemann’s discography is somewhat restricted, which is regrettable given the strength of her contribution in the large-scale works she favours. In particular, the rarely-recorded and fiendishly difficult Reger Concerto (her 1990 recording is still one of only a handful, Kulenkampff’s 1944 broadcast perhaps being the best-known) is notable for its varied shapes and tones—from moments of great delicacy to the rich, broad tone in the post-Romantic slow movement of this vast work.

Perhaps her least successful recording is that of Swedish Mozart-contemporary Joseph Kraus’s C major Concerto (1991), which lacks lightness and suffers a surfeit of emphasis; Peinemann’s phrasing is simply too hefty for the elegant classical discourse. This said, her claim to uphold the German tradition of Joachim and Flesch (a rather generalised aspiration, given the fact that they were in many ways aesthetically opposed to each other) is made credible by the declamatory power of her playing in the right repertoire. Thus, the 1976 Berg Violin Concerto recording, which takes a distinctly Romantic rather than modernist stance, is from the very beginning a performance of strongly-marked gestures. Peinemann’s tone is characteristically generous, with a very significant width of vibrato, but also some portamenti; the second movement opens extraordinarily powerfully and the darker emotions in this playing cannot fail to seize and hold attention.

Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto in D from 1983 is not dissimilar. This, too, is powerful and well-articulated, with effective accents in the lower half of the bow giving the work a purpose and direction that is consistently forceful. She had first played this work with Günter Wand at his 1963 début with the NDR broadcasting corporation in Hamburg, gaining critical admiration for her technique in both fingering and bowing. Similar traits are to be found again in Dvořák’s Concerto (of which Joachim disapproved because of its departures from classical form); this work is often rendered in a disappointingly disparate or long-winded manner, but Peinemann, ably backed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1965, produces a beautifully balanced performance with a well-judged mixture of gravitas and delicacy.

Edith Peinemann’s performances testify to an exceptionally strong-minded talent and, dare one say, a refreshingly assertive female sound on the violin—a view first articulated by conductor William Steinberg, who famously referred to her as ‘Milstein in skirts’!

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)