Skip to main content
Read page text

Gramophone awards shortList 2015

eight after fig V (or 7’01”), it distils an unforgettable sense of blissful wonder here.

Daniel proves just as convincing an advocate of the 24-minute concerto that James MacMillan fashioned for him in 2010. At its core is a substantial reworking of an earlier piece for solo oboe entitled In angustiis (‘In Distress’), penned as a cathartic response to the horrific events of 9/11, and whose raw emotion and sorrowful anguish throw into bolder relief the motoric rhythms and feisty humour of the shorter movements. It’s a strongly communicative, sincere work that continues to lure me back, and Daniel’s contribution is past praise in its virtuosity and eloquence. MacMillan himself partners with sympathy and also secures finely chiselled accounts of his own pithy One for chamber orchestra (2012) as well as Britten’s haunted and haunting 1974 Suite  on English Folk Tunes – the latter both more sharply focused and, in the valedictory ‘Lord Melbourne’, daringly spacious than either Rattle’s CBSO or Bedford’s Northern Sinfonia versions (EMI, 6/86; Naxos 12/98). Excellent sound and truthful balance throughout: this anthology merits a strong recommendation. Andrew Achenbach (May 2015)

Bruch . Prokofiev Bruch Violin Concerto No 1, Op 26 Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2, Op 63 Guro Kleven Hagen vn Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra / Bjarte Engeset Simax F PSC1266 (49’ • DDD)

Guro Kleven Hagen, at 20 years old, already plays with great assurance and true artistry. Her account of the Prokofiev stresses its romantic side, the first movement giving the impression of organic unity, fostered by well-managed transitions and well-engineered orchestral balance. This is very different from Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s recent recording, where we’re made vividly aware of all the music’s unusual, even eccentric juxtaposition of ideas. In the following Andante Hagen produces a warm, sweet tone from the start; Kopatchinskaja’s fragility, enhanced by the spare accompanying arpeggios, only gradually gives way to a more overtly expressive manner. It’s not that Hagen’s performance is lacking in variety but the contrasts occur within a narrower tonal spectrum. In the finale, she plays with irresistible vigour and momentum. A convincing, persuasive performance.

It seems to me that performances of the Bruch have become slower as violinists strive to extract every ounce of expression from the unforgettable melodies. Hagen, however, achieves similar timings to those of Fritz Kreisler in 1924-25, and without any expressive deficit. For the first movement’s second subject, the tempo only slackens significantly at the point where Bruch writes un poco più lento, creating a touching effect of reluctance to relinquish a beautiful moment. And in the Adagio the melodies flow easily, clearly distinguished from the more decorative passages. Hagen’s finale breathes youthful vitality, the chords of the main theme accomplished smoothly and effortlessly. She’s an outstanding musician and I eagerly await her next recording. Duncan Druce (August 2014) Prokofiev – selected comparison:  Kopatchinskaja, LPO, Jurowski (1/14) (NAIV) V5352  Bruch – selected comparison:  Kreisler, Royal Albert Hall Orch, Goosens     (8/09) (EMI) 265042-2; (NAXO) 8 110925

Dvořák Cello Concerto, Op 104 B191a. Lasst mich allein, Op 82 B157 No 1 (arr Lenehan)b. Rondo, Op 94 B171b. Goin’ Home (Theme from Symphony No 9, arr Fisher/Lenehan)b. Songs my mother taught me, Op 55 B104 No 4 (arr Grünfeld)b. Silent Woods, Op 68 No 5 B173b. Slavonic Dance, Op 46 B172 No 8b Alisa Weilerstein vc bAnna Polonsky pf a Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Jiří Bĕlohlávek Decca F 478 5705DH (67’ • DDD)

How disarmingly unforced and personable the Czech Philharmonic sound in the concerto’s introduction, Ji∑í B∆lohlávek providing a quietly authoritative, glowingly affectionate launching pad for Alisa Weilerstein’s superbly articulate entry. Not only does Weilerstein possess a flawless technical address, lustrous tone-production and intrepid range of dynamic, her playing evinces a captivating candour and risktaking flair that not only succeed in activating the goosebumps (always a good sign) but also make you hear the music with fresh ears. For all the red-blooded temperament and freewheeling spontaneity on show, though, it’s in the concerto’s softer, frequently chamber-like passages that Weilerstein and those inimitably songful Czech winds really come into their own, the music’s intimacy and sense of loss conveyed with the most raptly instinctive poetry imaginable. Just occasionally the prominent solo balance masks detail within the generous acoustic of Prague’s Rudolfinum. No matter: among the leading digital contenders, this conspicuously commanding and characterful new partnership must rank alongside Steven Isserlis’s recent version.

I also greatly enjoyed the remaining items, which find Weilerstein striking up a tangibly communicative rapport with Anna Polonsky (whose quick-witted pianism is a constant pleasure). Both Silent Woods and the Rondo are essayed with genuine aplomb, whereas the slightly clunky arrangement of the vivacious G minor Slavonic Dance doesn’t entirely come off. However, everything else here most certainly does, adding up to a disc worthy of the highest plaudits. Andrew Achenbach (July 2014) Vc Conc – selected comparison:  Isserlis, Mahler CO, Harding (10/13) (HYPE) CDA67917

Mozart Violin Concertos – No 3, K216; No 4, K218; No 5, K219 Arabella Steinbacher vn Festival Strings Lucerne / Daniel Dodds Pentatone F Í PTC5186 479 (78’ • DDD/DSD)

In the booklet Arabella Steinbacher writes: ‘These concertos have been with me since early childhood…I feel they are very close to my heart.’ Anybody tempted to dismiss this as a marketing ploy will soon change their minds on listening to these performances – they really do give the impression of a project backed by an unusual degree of sympathetic understanding.

Steinbacher has a way of searching out what gives each passage, each phrase, its individuality, getting it to speak to us through slight changes in dynamic or emphasis. Nothing is forced: the quick movements are fast enough for the passagework to sound brilliant but always with space for elegant shaping. The Lucerne Festival Strings are a small enough body to allow even accompanying lines to be played in a positive, lively manner. A top-class recording enhances the sensation of keen participation. Steinbacher finds her sweetest tone for the slow movements; elsewhere, there’s a strong awareness of the sense of fun that pervades many parts of these youthful masterpieces.

The purist in me noticed occasional over-smooth articulation and, at the other extreme, very short spiccato bow strokes. But these are minor issues, within these highly individual, deeply satisfying accounts. Duncan Druce (August 2014)


My Bookmarks

    Skip to main content