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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 (1806) [40:41].1
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Violin Concerto, op. 15 (1939, rev. 1958) [32:35]. 2
Janine Jansen (violin)
1Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, 2London Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. 1Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg, 31 July-2 August 2009, 2Abbey Road Studio 1, London, 18-19 July 2009. DDD
DECCA 478 1530 [73:21]

 

Experience Classicsonline

 
There’s a fascinating contrast about this CD which isn’t just about the challenging yet also stimulating coupling; it’s the difference in approaches to interpretation. This became clear to me in the Beethoven when I compared the 1989 recording by Kyung-Wha Chung and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt (EMI 7540722). Here are the comparative timings:-
 

Timings

I

II

III

Total

Jansen/Järvi

22:56

8:20

9:25

40:41

Chung/Tennstedt

24:53

9:43

10:05

44:41

 
Chung/Tennstedt’s approach is warmer, more romantic, more lingering. This impression is also in part down to the use of full symphony orchestra, with resultant heavier tuttis. Paavo Järvi’s use of a chamber orchestra brings to the work not just more flow and emphasis on progression but a greater freshness and transparency of texture. This in turn imparts a more striking dynamic contrast and shading and sharper edges. This is an altogether more classical approach. Do you prefer your Beethoven looking back to the classical era or forward to the romantic period? In the slow movement Chung and Jansen are equally intimate but Chung has more winsome fragility, Jansen more absolute purity.
 
I shall concentrate now on the CD under review. From Järvi’s orchestral introduction to the first movement there’s a freshness of attention and appreciable shaping of phrases. Jansen is also fully engaged in this approach, so while her presentation of the first theme is sweet its ornamentation reveals an element of tension. Similarly the orchestra’s initially buoyant treatment of the second theme becomes more philosophical at its return (5:25). Towards the end of the development (from 11:52) Jansen’s soft musings become more inward, glowing and soul-searching and Järvi is sensitive to this. The orchestral recapitulation is joyous. Jansen plays Kreisler’s cadenza in bright, dazzling fashion, revelling in its ingenious growth and combination of themes. Yet following the cadenza the emphasis is on simplicity and a quiet sense of fulfilment.
 
Simplicity of presentation, absence of exaggeration, smooth flow and pleasing phrasing all characterize Jansen and Järvi’s slow movement (tr. 2). In the first variation (0:56) the theme is gently embellished by the violin. Careful attention to the rests between both violin and orchestra contributions adds air, a cumulative effect through the movement so that time seems to stand still. The embellishments in Variation 2 (1:55) are more extended but purposeful while the orchestra alone in Variation 3 (2:56) carries forward this sense of purpose firmly and logically. A lovely gleaming quality is achieved in the recapitulation (5:09) with the solo violin soaring above the theme delivered by the orchestral violins pizzicato. The coda (5:56) unfolds naturally.
 
In the rondo finale (tr. 3) there’s a light but progressive swing to Jansen’s handling of the theme. The first episode (1:24) shows a relish for a slight shadowing of mood and texture. An intensifying of pace is relaxed at the return of the rondo theme. The second episode (3:07) is sweetly mysterious. At the very end you enjoy the contrast of orchestral verve and violin delicacy. In sum, as a fluent and stylish performance with attention to detail and contrast, Jansen and Järvi are hard to beat.
 
Add to this the persuasive case they make for the Britten violin concerto. They do this by making it a romantic piece, perhaps partly because of the contrast evident in use of full symphony orchestra. This is clear from Järvi’s emphatic attention to the strings’ ebbing and swelling of sound immediately after the timpani motif introduction. It is confirmed by the lingeringly reflective lyricism of Jansen’s solo statement of the first theme (tr. 4 0:37). After a freshly assertive preamble, the second theme (2:54) is acerbic and the orchestral snarls. During the development the second theme material is fused into the lyricism, becoming espress e rubato (4:29). This is the cue for Jansen’s playing becoming filled with longing and haunting. The orchestra’s recapitulation of the first theme, with the violin now taking up what was originally the orchestral accompaniment, is a mesmeric, dreamy haze.
 
I compared Britten’s own recording made in 1970 with violinist Mark Lubotsky and the English Chamber Orchestra (Decca 4173082). Here are the comparative timings

Timings

I

II

III

Total

Jansen/Järvi

9:31

8:35

14:29

32:35

Lubotsky/Britten

7:17

9:18

13:35

30:10

 
The timings for the first movement suggest a degree of indulgence in the new version, given the marking Moderato con moto. Lubotsky/Britten make the opening flow more naturally and lyrically, a kind of abstract, less emotive, ideal state from which the second theme is a grimmer departure. The orchestral return of the opening theme, even on muted strings, is sunnier, more clear-sighted and visionary. Britten finds a lighter touch. And it’s only after this that Lubotsky shows himself at his most expressive, as Britten’s markings desire.
 
Jansen and Järvi’s second movement scherzo (tr. 5) takes no prisoners. It’s exciting and exultant with a rather forcefully energetic swagger. But the violin has an espress e legato second theme (2:06) with some sympathetic woodwind backing which provides a more rarefied landscape for the return of the first theme. The orchestra then takes the opening of the second theme and repeats it obsessively to garish effect. This is only resolved by the soloist’s cadenza, thrillingly played by Jansen. It’s anchored in the work’s opening timpani motif and finally comes full circle to the first movement first theme.
 
Lubotsky/Britten bring a more playful, swinging quality to the scherzo and by contrast a more sultry languor to the second theme. This gives it more staying power so its later orchestral transformation seems more logical and is more tautly realized. Lubotsky’s cadenza is characterized by great spirit and impressive contrasts.
 
Järvi begins the passacaglia finale (tr. 6) in solemnity laid on thick: strings burdensome and brooding, trumpet wailing, upper woodwind crying in high register. The solo violin’s first variation (2:23) is movingly tender, personal and contains reactionary hope. Jansen brims with emotion and is assertive in the second variation (3:37) in dialogue with the orchestral rhetoric. In the third variation (4:20) muted strings and oboe provide an idyllic respite which the violin turns into a graceful dance. Things become even more supple in the fourth variation (5:47) with two flutes accompanying - a 20th century Tchaikovsky. The original ground bass is reasserted by ascending trumpets in Variation 5 (6:34) and counterbalanced by descending trombones. In Variation 6 (7:08) the bassoon has the ground with the solo violin fluttering above. The horns have a strident version in Variation 7 (7:28). The anticipate the violin’s grandly declamation before an optimistic Largamente orchestral statement resiliently completed by the violin. I’m trying to indicate how structurally neat but musically varied Britten’s passacaglia is. What rings more true and haunting is the coda (10:24) which sees Jansen impassioned and often stratospheric above a stately orchestral procession experienced in snatches. It could be a funeral march. The close is questioning and ambivalent. Is it D major or D minor? You decide.
 
Britten’s opening to the passacaglia finale is less weighty but has more sombre substance than Järvi’s. It’s an aching lament. Lubotsky’s first variation is more impersonal than Jansen’s, also more troubled and thereby closer to Britten’s marking inquieto. Britten’s idyllic respite is like a drowsy memory, rendering the violin’s contribution more trance-like than dance-like. Britten’s Largamente orchestral statement has a less grandiose but more convincingly steely projection than Järvi’s. Lubotsky/Britten reserve their most tender manner for the coda which has more emotive flexibility than Jansen/Järvi. It conveys more of a sense of looking far back when saying farewell. The orchestral parade, even though only a spasmodic presence, seems more momentous.
 
What Jansen and Järvi have achieved is a dramatic, compelling and sometimes very beautiful account. This is aided by a very forward, wonderfully immediate and, for the violin, intimate recording. It doesn’t, however, displace the authority of Lubotsky/Britten. That said here, generously coupled, are two really fine performances in quite different styles.
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 
 


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