Thursday, 26 December 2013

Vilde Frang, and Young Artists

Si jeunesse savait. Si vieillesse pouvait, runs the French adage. This is often applied to musicians; young musicians are go-getting and bursting with technique, but lack musical wisdom. Old musicians know the scores, but find difficulty in playing them as they would have wished, due to failing hands, arms and co-ordination.

Thus speak most critics. However, many young musicians give pause for thought such as, at the moment, Vilde Frang (violin) and Igor Levit (piano). I have already praised young Igor Levit and his courageous -- and highly impressive -- traversal of the late Beethoven piano sonatas. I have now discovered the Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang and thoroughly enjoyed her playing of Prokofiev's first violin concerto (and also the Sibelius concerto, on the same CD). The term that comes to mind when listening to Miss Frang is: freshness. She has, of course, technique to spare. But what appealed greatly to me was the freshness and enthusiasm she showed in her playing. The enthusiasm of youth, but Prokofiev was only 24 when he began to write his first violin concerto -- about the same age as Miss Frang when she is playing it -- and it is not some deep, profound work that reflects on human destiny. Some works -- the late Beethoven string quartets, the later Bruckner symphonies, for example -- may need to reflect the wisdom of age and experience. But much music benefits from being played with love and enthusiasm, and it is probably often easier to summon up love and enthusiasm when you are in your early 20s and works are still fresh, rather than when in your later 50s and you are giving your 250th performance of a popular concerto, with your reputation made long ago and an adoring public applauding “the star”. Experience does not always trump youth, and it is not as clear cut as many critics maintain, as shown by Igor Levit or Vilde Frang, inter alia.

Vilde Frang was an EMI artist. EMI has now been acquired by Warner Music, an American "entertainment" company that bears the same relationship to European classical music as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut do to good restaurant eating. Americans are excellent at some things -- such as guns, weapons, computer software and aircraft manufacture. But they don't really "do" European classical music on a long-term investment basis. Hopefully, BIS, a Swedish company, will snap up Miss Frang.

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