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Jan SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor op.47 (1905), Serenade in G minor op.69b (1913)
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)

Violin Concerto no.1 in A op.45 (1898), Romance in D op.100 (1910)
Henning Kraggerud (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
Recorded 24-26 June 2003 at Lighthouse, Centre for the Arts, Dorset.
NAXOS 8.557266 [71:08]

The opening of the Sibelius bodes well; lovely violin sound and a beautifully spacious approach. There are plenty of recordings that open in a similarly spacious way but most of them gradually pick up speed to encompass passion as well as poetry. This one stays spacious, with some passages seemingly crawling along, but with a remarkable sense of communing with nature. Since Engeset also has a fine sense of atmosphere this is an interesting reading, to say the least.

A little surprisingly, the "Adagio di molto", while certainly not hustled, is kept rhythmically taut. The result is attractive but possibly avoids penetrating the furthest expressive recesses of the music. The finale is swift, brilliant and very exciting, although in some ways a more powerful effect can be obtained with a tempo just a notch slower, since the orchestraís ostinatos become that much clearer. The Sibelian gifts of both Kraggerud and Engeset are strikingly evident in the beautifully poetic serenade.

So this is a version to consider, though there are others that are more likely to bowl over the first-time buyer. How does the Sinding affect the equation?

Well, it certainly shows that Scandinavians are not all gloom and doom and as it burst in so infectiously I felt, good for Sinding! The finale, too, has sizzling vitality and in between there is much generously romantic writing and a slow movement which rises from stark rumbles to a strong climax. But I have to say that Sindingís actual themes are not particularly individual or distinguished. If you listen to almost any part of the concerto for a few minutes at random you will probably get the idea itís marvellous since itís always either apparently leading up to some mighty statement or dying away to usher in some new moment of hushed beauty. But when the mighty statement or the new moment of hushed beauty arrives thereís nothing much to it. But still, it is a warm-hearted affair, beautifully played on a Guarneri instrument that once belonged to the great Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, and if you enjoy Max Bruch this is probably on a level with his concertos except no.1, and it is just about good enough to make me wonder what this composerís other two concertos are like (remembering that I was doubtful about his first two symphonies but found the third a worthy discovery). The Romance gets its first recording here and it may as well be its last since this, too, is a compendium of pleasing romantic sounds far short of the simple memorability of, say, the Romance for violin and orchestra by DvořŠk, yet played with a wealth of lovely tone and an obvious affection which is hardly likely to be bettered.

The recordings are very fine and the booklet note is good.

Christopher Howell

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