Wednesday 28 August 2013

A fabulous recording of Bartok’s two violin concertos with Isabelle Faust and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

The German violinist, Isabelle Faust won first prize at the 1987 Leopold Mozart Competition, when she was just 15. She went on to win the 1993 Paganini Competition thus giving her the ultimate opportunity to become a virtuoso soloist. However, Faust has always maintained an interest in chamber music and her fine debut disc for Harmonia Mundi in 1996 featured Bartok’s two sonatas for violin with pianist Ewa Kuppiec . This interest in chamber music stems from her teacher, Christoph Poppen, the long-time first violinist of the Cherubini Quartet.

Since then she has gone on to record both chamber and concerto repertoire as varied as Dvorák, Berg, Beethoven, Weber, Satie, Martinu, Shostakovich, Schubert, Fauré, Bach, Brahms, Jolivet and Janacek.

Faust’s recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas with pianist Alexander Melnikov received the ECHO Klassik Award  and the Gramophone Award  among others. The recording was nominated for a Grammy . Her solo recording of Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas was awarded the Diapason d’or de l’année 2010 .

Now on a new release from Harmonia Mundi  she returns to Bartok  to record the two violin concertos with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Daniel Harding . Isabelle Faust has a particular link to Bartok through her teacher the Hungarian violinist Dénes Zsigmondy who knew the composer.

HMC 902146
Bartok’s Violin Concerto No.1 Sz36 op.posth. was for a long time a forgotten work that the composer recycled as part of his Two Portraits. Written for an early love, the violinist Stefi Geyer, it was not performed until after the composer’s death, Geyer having declined to perform it. Isabelle Faust has gone back to a number of sources in order to clarify markings of phrasing and articulation.

As played by Isabelle Faust, this concerto takes on a new substance with this violinist drawing so much in the way of textures, colours, timbres and feeling in the opening of the Andante Sostenuto, with much of an improvisatory feeling. Faust is remarkable in the way that she works up the theme to the short climaxes. Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra provide a lovely central orchestral section extracting so much of the melancholic beauty. When Faust and the orchestra combine again they bring such a natural development as the music rises to a full climax. The hushed coda is beautifully done.

There is terrific playing from Faust in the skittish Allegro giocoso and some lovely long held notes before the more thoughtful subject section, the gentle rocking passage that leads to a neo romantic orchestral passage. More terrific playing ensues with Faust seemingly having great fun in the many varying moods of this music. What a superb technique Faust has. The tremendous fast section for orchestra leads to a wistful violin section, so finely drawn by Faust, and a spectacularly fine lead up to the coda.

The far better known Violin Concerto No.2 Sz112 has a gorgeous opening to the Allegro non troppo with Faust so rhapsodic when she enters. As the movement progresses she is brilliant in the subtle shifts of mood and colour. The reflective moments hinting at Bartok’s night music contrast with terrific outbursts of energy, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra on great form under Daniel Harding. During this movement there is some thrillingly light textured playing with Faust and the Swedish RSO bringing this music to life as few have done before. As the cadenza arrives there is superb playing from Faust as, indeed, there is in the dramatic coda.

How Isabelle Faust allows the Andante tranquillo to unfold is magical; the flow is always allowed to continue naturally with little outbursts of dynamics from the orchestra. An underlying drama is often evident, creating a tension as the violin quietly plays. In the central section, Faust is no less virtuosic with some fabulous playing right up to the quiet coda.

Built on material from the first movement, the allegro molto has many varying moods, tempi and dynamics which Faust brilliantly draws on. Slowly one can hear the music developing logically towards its destination. There is a lovely rhapsodic moment with lovely arpeggios on the violin. What a tremendous coda Faust and the orchestra give us in its original version. The violin plays a lilting melody, before the fast section leading to the coda which is then played by the orchestra alone with brass re-enforcing at the end. Apparently this ending was considered a problem by Zoltán Székely, who gave the first performance in 1939 and was the works dedicatee. He wanted more of a crowd pleaser, a request to which Bartok responded. However, this original ending is really special, particularly as played here.

This is a fabulous disc of concertos by one of the great composers. The recording is excellent and there are first class notes by Isabelle Faust.

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