Notes and Editorial Reviews
Vilde Frang (vn); Eivind Gulberg Jensen, cond; Danish Natl SO
EMI 50999 6 02570 2 4 (71:48)
The young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang makes her soloist’s entry in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in a way that sounds almost tentative in its first few notes, and she returns to that manner occasionally. But her general manner isn’t at all tentative; it incorporates moments
of respite in a highly individual account of this stormy movement. Eivind Gulberg Jensen and the orchestra also nourish the individual, most prominently, perhaps, in adopting flexible tempi and whipping up excitement by accelerating here and there in the tuttis. Frang’s reading of the cadenza features liquid arpeggiated passagework as silvery as those in performances of his own works by composer-violinist Pablo Sarasate. In fact, Frang recalls the older violinists of the golden age, but the overall effect is refreshing rather than nostalgic, and natural rather than mannered. The engineers have placed their soloist somewhat closer to the orchestra than Isaac Stern might have preferred in his own recordings. But though Frang breathes a warm sensibility from this rather recessive placement, she’s capable of electric excitement, too, as in the movement’s coda (until, that is, she slows down dramatically for the cadential chords). Frang sounds almost reticent, once again, in her entry in the Canzonetta, and even a bit strained in the movement’s middle section; but, with her penchant for taking time to ruminate on passages, milking from them every imaginable drop of sentiment, she always sounds like Vilde Frang and nobody else. Those who lament a loss of individuality among today’s violinists should find solace—and hope—in her reading of this warhorse, notably in her leisurely introduction to the finale, but also in episodic passages in the movement proper.
Nielsen’s Violin Concerto opens with a declamatory Praeludium that requires a more straightforwardly aggressive manner, and Frang rises to the challenge, although she brings more playfulness to the movement’s lighter moments. She and Jensen vary their approach in the movement from heightened dramatic exchanges through more delicate, chamber-like dialog and ruddy statement (especially in the movement’s second half), to breathless reflection. Although she sounds fully adequate to Tchaikovsky’s technical demands, Nielsen’s concerto, written by a violinist, sounds more ostentatiously virtuosic (more like Sibelius’s first draft of his Violin Concerto than like its final version), and so does Frang in performing it. Like the first version of Sibelius’s first movement, too, Nielsen’s includes a second cadenza, longer and more technically demanding, before the movement’s main thematic section returns. She and the orchestra bring this first multipart movement to a visceral conclusion. The second two-section part begins with what passes for a slow movement; Frang returns to the hushed manner she affected earlier in this movement before entering buoyantly into the Rondo, an
. I remember the strong impression Yehudi Menuhin’s performance of this movement made on me when I first heard it on an LP in the 1960s (in a performance from 1952 with the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mogens Wöldike on HMV BLP 1025), but I don’t think it sounded nearly so idiomatic and convincing as does Frang’s reading, although, in reviewing Maxim Vengerov’s performance with Daniel Barenboim on Teldec 13161 in
20:3, I noted that Menuhin’s “silken voice and playfulness” in the finale made his reading preferable to Tibor Varga’s with Jerzy Semkow and the Royal Danish Orchestra, Turnabout 4043, an LP that has been in my collection now for about 44 years (it seems to have been a reissue of a recording by Deutsche Grammophon). John Wiser praised Dong-Suk Kang’s reading on BIS CD 370 in
11:2, although Peter J. Rabinowitz thought Kang ponderous, and that he displayed little quicksilver, in the very next issue; Kang nevertheless plays with authority in the declamatory first movement and sounds reasonably playful in the finale. Wiser also liked Kim Sjøgren’s performance on Chandos 8854 (
14: 5), and he doesn’t sound so heavy-handed as does Kang. Cho-Liang Lin’s recording on CBS Masterworks MK44548 has sometimes been cited as the gold standard for both concertos (John Wiser preferred Lin’s Sibelius concerto to “all the competition” and praised his driving strength in Nielsen’s concerto,
12:3), but Vengerov more than matches him in intensity in the first movement and sounds lighter on his feet in the last movement. More recently, Nikolaj Znaider, whom David K. Nelson praised for his tenderness and obvious love for the work (
25:4), turned in a performance that I praised for its “majestic depth of utterance” in a review that I prepared but that, it seems, didn’t appear (I can find only David’s in the issue and yearly index), a review in which I expressed my preference of his reading to both Lin’s and Vengerov’s. Now it’s the turn of Vilde Frang, whose expansive freedom in the first movement and buoyant but incisive wit in the finale make her recording even more prepossessing, and idiomatic.
Frang’s performances should awaken new impressions of both these works, one familiar and the other inhabiting the core repertoire’s penumbra. These impressions may chip away at older ones to their very roots. Urgently recommended as one of the most hopeful recordings of the new century, showcasing a lovely and truly individual violinistic voice.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Two years ago - how time does fly! - I reviewed here the young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang’s first disc for EMI, coupling the Sibelius concerto with Prokofiev’s First. I have returned to that disc several times, when rediscovering how very individual the playing is always adds to the pleasure. It might seem perverse, therefore, and it is certainly disappointing for me, that it is the very individuality of the playing in Tchaikovsky’s celebrated concerto that makes this performance less satisfying. Let us note the programming though, once again, a big romantic concerto coupled with one less frequently heard and less of a crowd-puller.
The first movement of the Tchaikovsky is a gloriously lyrical outpouring, and Frang is not short on that, but hers is clearly a no-nonsense view of the concerto, fully supported by conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen. We can hear this straightaway in the short orchestral introduction, which is rather straight and unyielding, though the recorded sound is remarkably rich. Frang’s first entry follows, a mixture of very individual phrasing - holding back here, pushing forward there - mixed with a directness of approach that sometimes misses, just slightly, the sentimental heart - and I have chosen the adjective with care - that is surely part of this music. Her singing tone is put to marvellous use during this first passage, lasting some six minutes, and this is followed by the first big orchestral tutti which is brisk rather than broad, and which really puts the stamp on the whole performance. The orchestra plays marvellously well - a lovely first flute just after the cadenza - but much of the orchestral writing in this concerto really is accompaniment, and I have heard more made of it in other performances. And talk of the cadenza allows me to draw attention to the many points therein, as well as elsewhere in the movement, where the soloist has clearly thought afresh about such matters as pace and phrasing, leading to numerous individual touches that many may find spontaneous, but which sometimes come across to this listener, in a way that the same soloist’s way with Sibelius did not, as calculated and studied. Other examples of this young artist “putting her mark” on the work include more than usually differentiated moods in the main theme and interludes of the slow movement, though the overriding melancholy of this movement is very well communicated. The finale is brilliantly played, though a little hard driven for my taste. Although I was listening without a score - I’m quite convinced I used to have one! - it seems to me that at least some of the little cuts from the bad old days in this movement are back in place, rather contrary to current, and preferable, practice.
The performance of the Nielsen concerto is very fine indeed. I first heard this piece in my teens, probably at pretty much the same time as I first heard the Tchaikovsky, but near-constant exposure to the Russian’s concerto means that one knows it off by heart, which one can’t say for the Nielsen. This is perhaps why the soloist’s undoubted individuality of approach disturbs me less in the Nielsen than it does in the Tchaikovsky. There are some fiendish passages in the work - as there are in the Tchaikovsky - which this astonishing young player throws off with aplomb, and she is very expressive indeed in the gentler passages. Whilst finding her performance totally convincing, I also listened to two much older performances, by Dong-Suk Kang on BIS, accompanied by Myung-Whun Chung, and Cho- Liang Lin with Salonen on a 1988 CBS Masterworks disc (reissued on Sony Classics). To my surprise I preferred both the older readings to the newer one, and for the same reason. The two movements of Nielsen’s concerto make up a rather unorthodox layout, and both earlier violinists maintain a sense of the work’s architecture better than Frang manages here. We are in no doubt, for example - especially with Lin - that the arrival of the playful final rondo melody is the continuation of the second movement and not, as Frang’s performance tends to give the impression, the beginning of quite a separate one.
Vilde Frang is a magnificent young violinist and these are two magnificent performances. I was bowled over by the earlier disc mentioned above, and I think any listener coming to this one with fewer preconceptions than mine will be bowled over by it too. The recording is sumptuous, and the booklet carries a helpful article by David Fanning.
-- William Hedley, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Vilde Frang (Violin)
Eivind Gullberg Jensen
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1878; Russia
Concerto for Violin, Op. 33 by Carl Nielsen
Vilde Frang (Violin)
Eivind Gullberg Jensen
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1911; Denmark
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