Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Violin Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor Op.14 (1853) [27:45]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26 (1868) [24:55]
Ole BULL (1810-1880)
Cantabile doloroso e Rondo giocoso, for violin and orchestra [8:58]
Charlie Siem (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Gourlay
rec. March 2011, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 66661-2 [61:40]

Itís nothing new for a violinist to strike a pose of model-status good looks. Thatís what Warnerís publicists have deemed appropriate for the British violinist of Norwegian descent, Charlie Siem, and thus he stands, in impossibly white shirt and high waisted tight back trousers, fiddle in hand like the drape of a matadorís cape. But Jan KubelŪk, Czech fiddler of old, was similarly fÍted for his looks and you donít go far without turning up postcards of that lustrous haired hero. So itís fine by me.

Fortunately Siem is a fine musician. Heís chosen two concertos and a curiosity. One of the concertos is the Bruch in G minor, of which we are presumably sated, and the second is the Wieniawski in F sharp minor, which is a much rarer affair - indeed considerably rarer than the same composerís warhorse, the Second Concerto. The oddity is Ole Bullís Cantabile doloroso e Rondo giocoso. Siem is joined by the LSO and Andrew Gourlay.

Siemís Bruch is clean-limbed and his thoughtful performance includes some clever expressive devices that show a good sense of personalisation. He phrases warmly in the slow movement where the wind and horn lines are well shaped, and where the crest and fall of the violin line is finely detailed; dynamic variance is an ally to Siem here. The finale strikes a rather grand kind of pose, though the answering phrases and passages Ė especially the answering wind lines, often fudged or glossed Ė register well. Sometimes Siemís passagework can be a touch routine. I canít help feeling the performance is just a touch studio-bound, for all the felicities.

Wieniawskiís youthful First Concerto has never really staked much of a claim on the concert stage. It has made some headway on disc, though certainly not spectacular headway. Gil Shaham has recorded it for DG, but before him Perlman, with Ozawa, on EMI and Ė less well known but excellent Ė Vadim Brodsky and Antoni Wit on Arts Music have left important recordings. Before them however this was Michael Rabinís concerto. Thereís his studio disc with von Matacic and thereís a live one with Alfred Wallenstein in Los Angeles on Tahra Ė considerably hacked about editorially, and in poor sound, but brilliantly played. Siem is not an especially fiery player, and his take is precise and accurate, warm in the slow movement Ė where it does sound as if Bruch had listened and learned from the older man Ė and crisp in the finale. Itís an avuncular, slightly measured performance all round.

If you like Bullís violin works youíll have Arve Tellefsenís disc on Simax [PSC1261]. He too plays the Cantabile doloroso e Rondo giocoso and, with spectacular SACD sound, this really packs a punch. Tellefsen is something of an interventionist, using every ounce of his skill to vest the lines with tense operatic sculpting. By comparison Siem, though wholly musical, sounds a touch distant and prosaic.

It would be a shame to end on a dour note. Siem is a highly proficient technician, and he forms clearly solid ensembles with his collaborators, who have been well recorded. Sometimes, however, passages fail to take flight and one senses he may be constrained by studio conditions. Why not a live recording next time?

Jonathan Woolf

A highly proficient technician who forms clearly solid ensembles with his collaborators.