One doesn’t wish to perpetuate gender separation but at least in historical terms, as I’ve written before, there were three great commercial recordings of the Sibelius Concerto by women violinists in the decade between 1943 and 1952. The first was by Anja Ignatius in wartime Berlin (Symposium 1310). The second followed two years later when Ginette Neveu made her celebrated recording, one that has been multiply available over the years. This is the third of the great triumvirate, happily restored to circulation by Biddulph [802182 - see review
] a number of years ago and now again by Forgotten Records. The slightly earlier 1940 Guila Bustabo traversal with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Fritz Zaun was on A Classical Record ARC37 and is also a stunner, though it’s less well-recalled. Talking of which, the hair-raising 1943 and very male Kulenkampff/Furtwängler on Music & Arts CD799 (and elsewhere) - try to hear it - was a live broadcast.
Camilla Wicks’ Sibelius is the stuff of legend. Long absence from the catalogue only increased enthusiasm for its return, though I’m not aware that, apart from the somewhat moth-eaten brigade of pre-stereo lovers - I speak as a fully paid up member of the moth-eaten brigade, who plies his trade on cylinders and cassettes alike, to boot - there was much joy at its return. Still, all three of these cited recordings above bring powerfully different approaches to bear; the cool reserve of Ignatius, the fiery, digging-into-the-string passion of Neveu, and Wicks’ expressive but not overblown drama, architecturally magnificent in its completeness.
She had the advantage of collaboration with Sixten Ehrling, with whom she gave numerous concerts. In the Concerto, we can savour their commanding strengths. The opening is full of the subtlest tonal colour. Orchestral counter-themes register with naturalness and surety. The agitated little string figures that are often subsumed are here present as part of the living fabric of the orchestral life force of the music. In the slow movement we find Wicks melancholic without ostentation - no overtly externalised finger position changes or timbral disparities. She remains unaffectedly direct, and strongly moving. Power and momentum characterise the finale. Wicks is no metronome and her rubati are finely judged and thoroughly convincing. Personalised phrasing adds immeasurably to a performance that remains as laudable now as the day it was recorded.
The Biddulph had some fascinating couplings. First, there was Valen’s pocket concerto of 1940 which is a real rarity. I’m not aware that it’s been reissued since 1949. Then, secondly, Ehrling also proves an adept and highly accomplished pianist in his collaboration with Wicks in the violin and piano pieces which divide into the commercial HMV recordings with Ehrling recorded between 1949 and 1951 and unpublished Columbias with an unknown accompanist made in 1951. If you can track down this Biddulph disc you’re on to a good thing, not least because Ward Marston’s transfers seem successfully to have stabilised pitch problems on earlier issues on the Concerto. This Forgotten Records transfer is slightly less successful in that respect, and is cut a bit higher and thus more immediate sound-wise.
Talking of Wicks’ Sibelius, collectors should not overlook a CD devoted to rare Wicks material - Music & Arts 1160 - which contains a broadcast performance of the finale of the Sibelius, coupled with a splendid Bruno Walter directed Beethoven Concerto. There are other important things here as well, including Nigun
Forgotten Records rounds out its disc with Sixten Ehrling’s rapt 1952 The Swan of Tuonela
and a vibrant, dramatic Lemminkäinen’s Return
. The envoi is in the capable hands of another conducting Sixten, namely Sixten Eckerberg whose Finlandia
, whilst an obvious choice, rounds out the release to a respectable though still not overly generous 52 minutes.
Masterwork Index: Sibelius violin concerto