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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The complete works for violin and orchestra
Violin Concerto Op.47
(1903-1904, rev. 1905)
Two Serenades Op.69
No.1 in D major (1912)
No.2 in G minor (1913)
Two Pieces Op.77
No.1 Cantique: Laetare anima (1914)
No.2 Devotion: Ab imo pectore (1915)
Two Humoresques Op.87
No.1 in D minor (1917, rev. ?1939)
No.2 in D major (1917, rev. 1923)
Four Humoresques Op.89
No.1 in G minor (1917, rev.1923)
No.2 in G minor (1917, rev.1923)
No.3 in E flat major (1917, rev.1923)
No.4 in G minor (1918, rev.1922)
Suite for violin and strings Op.117 (1929)
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard
Recorded Denmark, February 2002
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5455342 [78:47]

The German violinist Christian Tetzlaff has been recording for Virgin Classics for around a decade now and it is a bold step for the partnership to produce a disc containing the complete Sibelius works for violin and orchestra. It is a most welcome idea and breaks the common mould of the twin concerto disc. Even bolder is for a violinist to enter the lists with a repertoire concerto in such an intimidatingly competitive field. The disc’s booklet claims there have been something in the region of one hundred commercial recordings of the concerto. Some of the greatest twentieth century violinists were among these. Heifetz, for example, made a recording that for some is still the benchmark.

Tetzlaff has played the work many times with different orchestras including a well received London Promenade Concert performance last year and on this disc the playing oozes a confidence that must partly result from that familiarity. His playing is characterised by an attacking virtuosity and clean tone. You are made to feel he is coming at you very strongly and this is emphasised by his being quite closely recorded. It is very direct playing that is well matched by the excellent Danish National Symphony Orchestra under their principal guest conductor, Thomas Dausgaard. I liked the clear, reedy sound of the winds in the slow movement but it is in the more vigorous passages that this performance scores. For example the run up to the climax at the end of the first movement is striking, Tetzlaff’s whirring arpeggiations in the foreground making for exciting listening. Tempi are sensible and there is no doubt this is a fine performance overall. But I could not help feeling there was a little bit of something missing. One of the things that makes Heifetz’s interpretation so great is the way he explores the mystery, darkness and beauty of a concerto that might otherwise be played and heard as a virtuoso, romantic war-horse. With him, the arresting opening is deeply misterioso and the adagio moves and flowers so that you can feel "the anguish of existence, fitfully lit up by the sun". His virtuosity can be taken as read, so overall the performance can give an impression of a greater work than the one Tetzlaff is playing.

Tasmin Little, if I may be so bold as to mention her in the same breath as Heifetz, gives a similar impression. Her 1992 rendering has just been reissued as an EMI Classics production (coupled with the Dvořák concerto). At a similar price to Tetzlaff’s disc it makes for a useful comparison if it is chiefly the concerto you are after. Her account does have that little bit of something I thought missing in Tetzlaff’s - a feeling and sensitivity that carries with it a greater sense of import. Vernon Handley with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic provides for a perfectly empathetic partnership. The recorded sound, however, is not quite in the same class.

Of the other pieces on the Virgin disc, the set of four Humoresques, op. 89 is probably the most interesting and altogether covers a range of moods and effects that are well captured in performance and recording. It was of this work Sibelius spoke: "the anguish of existence, fitfully lit up by the sun", that I quoted above. The last written of the works, the Suite for violin and strings Op.117, is the least distinguished and Sibelius did not intend it to be published. However, this three movement pastoral affair deserves to be heard and there is much more to be enjoyed in the other pieces.

John Leeman

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