Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [35:00]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Violin Concerto, Op. 33 (1878) [36:36]
Vilde Frang (violin)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Elvind Gullberg Jensen
rec. 29-31 August 2011, DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen
EMI CLASSICS 6025702 [71:48]
Two years ago - how time does fly! - I reviewed here the young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang’s first disc for EMI, coupling the Sibelius concerto with Prokofiev’s First. I have returned to that disc several times, when rediscovering how very individual the playing is always adds to the pleasure. It might seem perverse, therefore, and it is certainly disappointing for me, that it is the very individuality of the playing in Tchaikovsky’s celebrated concerto that makes this performance less satisfying. Let us note the programming though, once again, a big romantic concerto coupled with one less frequently heard and less of a crowd-puller.
The first movement of the Tchaikovsky is a gloriously lyrical outpouring, and Frang is not short on that, but hers is clearly a no-nonsense view of the concerto, fully supported by conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen. We can hear this straightaway in the short orchestral introduction, which is rather straight and unyielding, though the recorded sound is remarkably rich. Frang’s first entry follows, a mixture of very individual phrasing - holding back here, pushing forward there - mixed with a directness of approach that sometimes misses, just slightly, the sentimental heart - and I have chosen the adjective with care - that is surely part of this music. Her singing tone is put to marvellous use during this first passage, lasting some six minutes, and this is followed by the first big orchestral tutti which is brisk rather than broad, and which really puts the stamp on the whole performance. The orchestra plays marvellously well - a lovely first flute just after the cadenza - but much of the orchestral writing in this concerto really is accompaniment, and I have heard more made of it in other performances. And talk of the cadenza allows me to draw attention to the many points therein, as well as elsewhere in the movement, where the soloist has clearly thought afresh about such matters as pace and phrasing, leading to numerous individual touches that many may find spontaneous, but which sometimes come across to this listener, in a way that the same soloist’s way with Sibelius did not, as calculated and studied. Other examples of this young artist “putting her mark” on the work include more than usually differentiated moods in the main theme and interludes of the slow movement, though the overriding melancholy of this movement is very well communicated. The finale is brilliantly played, though a little hard driven for my taste. Although I was listening without a score - I’m quite convinced I used to have one! - it seems to me that at least some of the little cuts from the bad old days in this movement are back in place, rather contrary to current, and preferable, practice.
The performance of the Nielsen concerto is very fine indeed. I first heard this piece in my teens, probably at pretty much the same time as I first heard the Tchaikovsky, but near-constant exposure to the Russian’s concerto means that one knows it off by heart, which one can’t say for the Nielsen. This is perhaps why the soloist’s undoubted individuality of approach disturbs me less in the Nielsen than it does in the Tchaikovsky. There are some fiendish passages in the work - as there are in the Tchaikovsky - which this astonishing young player throws off with aplomb, and she is very expressive indeed in the gentler passages. Whilst finding her performance totally convincing I also listened to two much older performances, by Dong-Suk Kang on Bis, accompanied by Myung-Whun Chung, and Cho- Liang Lin with Salonen on a 1988 CBS Masterworks disc (reissued on Sony Classics). To my surprise I preferred both the older readings to the newer one, and for the same reason. The two movements of Nielsen’s concerto make up a rather unorthodox layout, and both earlier violinists maintain a sense of the work’s architecture better than Frang manages here. We are in no doubt, for example - especially with Lin - that the arrival of the playful final rondo melody is the continuation of the second movement and not, as Frang’s performance tends to give the impression, the beginning of quite a separate one.
Vilde Frang is a magnificent young violinist and these are two magnificent performances. I was bowled over by the earlier disc mentioned above, and I think any listener coming to this one with fewer preconceptions than mine will be bowled over by it too. The recording is sumptuous, and the booklet carries a helpful article by David Fanning.
William Hedley 

Two very individual and magnificent performances.