Joseph Swensen live both as conductor
and soloist, this disc came as a major
disappointment to me, certainly based
upon the aural evidence of the Violin
Concerto. The selection of Hungarian
Dances goes some way to rectifying the
position, but most collectors will be
buying this disc for the concerto.
to the sleeve, Swensen uses a Stradivarius,
I have never heard such harsh and jerky
playing. This disfigures the concerto,
one of the glories of the romantic repertoire.
It is as though Swensen is trying to
play in a period style, except that
such players at least manage to make
the sound of their instrument tolerable.
The orchestral tutti starting the work
is superb, with the Scottish Chamber
Orchestra continuing from Mackerras’s
Telarc recording of the four symphonies.
One need have no reservations about
the size of the orchestra in these works,
some fifty strong. Unfortunately, it
is only once the violin solo starts
that the performance goes downhill.
Any number of other
modern performances of this work are
preferable, and it is a great disappointment
to me not to be able to give this disc
a warmer welcome. I cannot fault Linn’s
capturing of the sound of the Usher
Hall, not a particularly forgiving acoustic,
but here, sounding very good. In addition
the SACD delivers a clear sound picture
of the hall, again without being spectacularly
hi-fi. It is a natural concert hall
acoustic, which is fine.
When the orchestra
is engaged to play a selection of the
Hungarian Dances, orchestrated by Brahms
and other composers, we get just over
half of them. In retrospect it may have
been a better idea to concentrate on
all of the dances, except that I am
not sure that there is a mass market
for such a disc.
You may not feel as
strongly as I do about the violin playing,
and so before buying I suggest you try
the following passages before purchase.
First movement:- 2’47"
Second Movement:- 3’40"
Last Movement:- 3’45"
Both soloist and producer
must surely have approved this issue.
My reaction to it is of course purely
personal, but I must report as I find,
supported by evidence, for you to check
as you see fit.
My experience with
SACD releases this month has not been
particularly successful, given annoyingly
short playing times (Philips
Gergiev Tchaikovsky 4th),
and now this flawed version of the Brahms
Violin Concerto. With releases like
this the industry is doing favours neither
to themselves nor to us.