Friday, 21 June 2013

Britten's Violin Concerto

For decades Benjamin Britten's violin concerto lurked in the musical shadows and was rarely heard. Partly I suspect this was due to a certain distaste surrounding Britten the man; partly critical scorn at someone daring to write a concerto in D minor with tunes, themes and melodies … in 1939. I came across the concerto relatively late in my life but I now own no less than fourteen versions played by a broad swathe of violinists: James Ehnes (x2), Bronislav Gimpel, Daniel Hope, Janine Jansen (x2), Mark Lubotsky (with Britten), Rebecca Hirsch, Lorraine McAslan, Anthony Marwood, Theo Olof (the original version in 1948 before Britten revised it) and Frank Peter Zimmermann (x3). On order is a version with Maxim Vengerov (for which I do not hold out great expectations, but it comes as part of a box).

I have just been listening to Frank Peter Zimmermann in this work (recorded in 2004 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck). Zimmermann is my kind of violinist, and the Britten work suits him down to the ground. He plays with passionate conviction (the kind of passion I missed with James Ehnes) and his sophisticated violin sound suits this multi-layered music. We do not need the rich, dark Juilliard / DeLay sound in this music (which is one reason I suspect Vengerov will prove a dud for me). Somewhat to my surprise, the Swedish Radio Orchestra makes a very real contribution, playing Britten's sweeping melodies as if it were their favourite work. A big hit, then, and Zimmermann may even trump Janine Jansen, the reigning favourite.

Also on the Zimmermann CD are the two violin concertos of Karol Szymanowski. I have struggled to like these concertos for decades; at one time I even bought the violin music so I could try it out myself (some hope). But both concertos, in the end, remain somewhat elusive, and while I can bask in the general orchestral wash, I cannot really get involved with Szymanowski's music. My loss, I suspect. I'll go on persevering (but not on my violin).

1 comment:

Lazinov said...

Since you are an enthusiast of the Britten violin concerto I would like to draw your attention to the CD selected by the German Record Critics for the prize of Best Historic Recording 2012 (4th QTR).Here are some review quotations:
“Wiłkomirska remains sweet, and focused, of tone throughout … her assurance is perhaps at its zenith in her playing of the Passacaglia, which is powerful, virtuosic, expressively cogent, and where we find she retains virtuosity and tonal vibrance to the very end. This joins the admittedly small discography of the work, and does so on sheer merit.” 

“Rowicki directs a compelling, dramatic Tchaikovsky Four … With a sweeping battalion of strings at his disposal, punctuating brass and amazingly vivid percussion definition, courtesy of another of [OCCDs’] top class microphone placements, this is a seismic rendition of the symphony.” 

“Hair-shirt production values from this company ensure that terrific concerts such as this have a continuing and richly deserved afterlife.” 
—Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International, December 2011 

“Really, your recording is of demonstration quality, with all the clarity one could ask for. The balance between soloists and orchestra, the dynamic range and the stereo separation are excellent. Well done!” 
—Graham B. Slater, former BBC engineer, private correspondence, 5th February 2012 

“[T]his is a breathtaking performance of the Britten […] Musicianship of the highest order from soloist, conductor, and orchestra IMHO. And a simply stunning live performance exquisitely recorded. Nothing is lost. Quite outstanding, and one of my ‘best buys’ this year.” 
—Andrew Magnay, UK on the forum, 22nd May 2012 

“[…] Wiłkomirska’s radiant performance is typical of her supremely agile, subtly inflected and lyrical playing style, and Rowicki accompanies with his characteristic skill. This disc is well worth acquiring for the Britten alone, but Rowicki’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is remarkable too. This is no routine outing for a familiar warhorse but a thrilling performance that seems to relish living dangerously and that bristles with dark, propulsive energy from start to finish. The impact of the playing is helped by the superb sound of the recording – [… this disc is] an extraordinary success from a technical point of view as well.” 
—Nigel Simeone, International Record Review, June 2012 

“Climbing a few rungs up the sonic ladder finds us in the company of the fine Polish violinist Wanda Wiłkomirska with the Warsaw Philharmonic under a favorite conductor of mine, Witold Rowicki, for a brightly lit presentation of Britten’s Violin Concerto.” 

“…stereo results […] rival those that the ‘majors’ were achieving with a budget of thousands! This particular concert […] also includes a highly combustible Tchaikovsky Fourth and the thrilling ‘Mazur’ from The Haunted Manor by Moniuszko.” 
—Rob Cowan, Gramophone, July 2012
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto op.15; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op.36; Stanislaw Moniuszko: Mazur, from: "Straszny dwór".Wanda Wilkomirska, Witold Rowicki, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestral Concert CDs CD 12/2011 

Wanda Wilkomirska presents herself as one of the great storytellers on the violin. She plays one of the most important concertos of the 20th Century, and the recording technique is sensational. An unrepeatable constellation. (For the jury: Wolfgang Wendel)

This is the link to the website where the award is published:
I would highly recommend this recording to you.
OCCDS CD12/2011 Here is a link to the website of OCCDs:
Kind regards,