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20th Century Violin Concertos
CD 1
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916) [23:58]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Violin Concerto No. 2 (1938) [38:50]
CD 2
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)

Violin Concerto (1952) [30:35]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

Violin Concerto No. 2 (1946) [26:02]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)

Violin Concerto (1940) [23:06]
Xiao-Wang Dong (violin) (Szymanowski; Bartók)
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Omri Hadari (Szymanowski; Bartók)
Dene Olding (violin) (Martin, Milhaud, Barber)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Hiroyuki Iwaki (Martin, Milhaud, Barber)
rec. Adelaide Town Hall, Dec 1988 (Szymanowski; Bartók); Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University 28-29 May 1990 (Barber); 3-7 Dec 1991 (Milhaud, Martin).
ABC CLASSICS 476 7182 [62:17 + 79:59]

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This is an economical way to take in a handful of twentieth century violin concertos ranging in style from sobriety to ecstasy to full frontal romance.

This is of course an economy reissue. ABC Classics’ packaging uses a very understated design for the booklet but the documentation is taken direct from the original CDs.

Xiao-Dong Wang’s tone is tense and sometimes wiry. Otherwise he and the Adelaide orchestra have a good handle on the fragility and feyness of Szymanowski 1 - a work with more singing sentiment than its more feted successor. Gordon Kerry's notes cogently link this work with the hothouse fervour and mystical eroticism of Métopes and King Roger. To that list I would add the Symphony No. 3 Song of the Night. As an interpretation this Szymanowski 1 lacks the lush tone and definition of Oistrakh and the many-splendoured witchery of Wilkomirska or Kulka. Also the sound, while much better than many of the older classics, is not up to CD Accord's cosily-warmed acoustic for Kaja Danczowska.

Adelaide’s well-judged atmospheric ambience carries over into the Bartók which in audio terms is most satisfyingly arranged. The soloist’s tone continues to evince that slender tigerish aspect we also associate with Chung and Mullova - though not as shining as that of Mullova. This is a thoroughly enjoyable reading of the Bartók which leans on the romantic threads in the score rather than the cooler modernism projected in some other versions. The last movement is a fantastic object lesson in the mediation between explosive natural energy and romantic otherworldliness. In fact the more I hear of this performance the more impressed I have become. As touchstones try the last movement of the Bartók and the opening of the Szymanowski.

Dene Olding is the soloist for the second disc.

The Martin in fact gives the lie to my claim for sobriety - certainly in the first movement. Olding nevertheless picks up on the Martin's more subdued and less demonstrative genetic material in the middle movement. The concerto is not at all lush, closer to the Bartók 2 than to the Szymanowski. The recording is very good but the Monash Hall, while delivering a very masculine up-front image, lacks the magical spatial sense of the Adelaide Town hall. A grim or certainly serious air pervades the finale which it casts aside for some triumphant climactic statements. However it is the elegiac tragic stream which very satisfyingly bids the listener farewell. The work was dedicated to Paul Sacher and was commissioned by the Pro Helvetia Foundation. It has been recorded by Wolfgang Schneiderhan with Ansermet and the Suisse Romande and by Paul Kling with the enterprising Louisville Orchestra.

The Milhaud Second Concerto will appeal to those who are drawn to the singing aspirational violin to be heard in the Walton concerto. Here the voice is shaded by a sort of sun-warmed Mediterranean expressionism. Olding rejoices in the dapple and dance of the finale which is lent raucous rowdiness by the brass. There is something of the exuberant no-holds-barred Copland about this writing - think of El Salon again but ‘cut’ with Waltonian 'bite'. The concerto cleaves to the line of stunning virtuoso concertos.

Olding and Iwaki give a dry-eyed reading of the Barber which may appeal to you if you have tired of the classic version on Sony-CBS. This ABC is the Barber played as if everyone wished it was the Stravinsky. This could not be my first recommendation although the finale certainly does not disappoint when it comes to gaspingly breathless dynamism. For first recommendation I would probably go to the CBSD/Sony. There is also another Australian performance by Patrick Thomas which I would commend. It used to be on an old Unicorn LP UNS256 with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra conducted by the still bitterly missed David Measham. It’s a pity that recording has not been thought glamorous enough to reissue.

Hearing Olding’s very individual take on the Barber I began to muse on how this concerto would have sounded if it had been allocated to the Adelaide sessions with Omri Hadari and Xiao-Dong Wang. Very different I am sure.

It would have been nice to have had some background on the two soloists. There is nothing in the booklet. That said the essays on the works are generously extensive and well put together. Congratulations to Messrs David Garrett and Gordon Kerry.

A single width case completes the picture.

This is the sort of set that would do very good service to the young exploratory music-lover setting out in the foothills. I hope that it finds its mark. The more practised, not to say obsessive, collectors will want this for the rare Milhaud (the only modern recording, I think) and also for a different take on the Martin and Barber. The Bartók should appeal to those who have been put off by more cerebral performances.

Rob Barnett

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