Naxos’s program of Scandinavian violin concertos represents both night and day in the works of former violinists and composers Jean Sibelius and Christian Sinding. Sibelius’s rhapsodic concerto bears the impress of the young man who improvised on the violin in the craggy fastnesses of his native country; Sinding’s (the first, from 1898, of three) pays tribute to the late Romantic virtuoso tradition, with the soloist’s opening gesture curiously suggestive of a finale theme from Bruch’s First Concerto. If Sibelius’s dimly lit Serenade and Sinding’s expansively cinematic Romance (there’s a touch of the cinematic in the concerto as well, although both works antedated the era) don’t suggest night and day, they make almost as strong a contrast.Read more Henning Kraggerud plays with great virtuosity in Sibelius’s violinistic magnum opus, and the recorded sound, though balanced, captures even the snap of his bow in the inky vortex of the first movement’s swirling passagework. His tone on the 1744 Ole Bull Guarneri del Gesù, lent to him for this recording, sounds as runically eldritch as Sibelius’s music itself. Kraggerud makes the most of this sinuousness, playing the second movement’s sinking double stops moodily rather than ecstatically. He affects the same mysterioso in the recitative-like sections of Sibelius’s Serenade. Sinding’s concerto, on the other hand, turns out, as its opening foreshadows, to be an extroverted romp (although the slow movement provides its share of somber, resonant musing); and as the music’s tension relaxes, so does the edge on Kraggerud’s virtuosity (he seems more at home in the danse macabre than in the tantoli). But he’s ardently songful in Sinding’s Romance from 1910, of which this recording’s proclaimed by its label to be the first. Bjarte Engeset and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provide a sonorous and allusive (and appropriately abrupt, where necessary) backdrop to Kraggerud’s dark divagations in Sibelius’s works and a lush romantic one for his more extroverted gambols in Sinding’s.
Kraggerud faces Olympian competition in Sibelius’s concerto, but his dark-hued yet brilliant reading compares favorably on its own terms with Heifetz’s cold light or Vengerov’s highly personalized meanderings. He has Sinding’s works pretty much to himself. The release can therefore be recommended all round: a strongly competitive, eerie Sibelius concerto, a Serenade that, while it may not match Mutter’s languid yearning (Deutsche Grammophon 447-895-2), provides the requisite subdued colors in its less histrionic way, and two unfamiliar works by Sinding.
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