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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 [15:10]
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (c. 1730) [13:00]
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra ‘Tālā Gaisma’ (Distant Light) (1996/97) [31:48]
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Céline Frisch (harpsichord)
rec. 5-7 December 2013, Conservatoire de Musique et de Danse Darius Milhaud, Aix-en-Provence, France
WARNER ERATO 4632322 [60:00]

This disc has been warmly received by Michael Cookson (see review), and I concur with most of his observations. I like these Bach concerto performances for Renaud Capuçon’s superb solo performance and the delightfully light touch provided by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Listening through different systems there is one little detail which nags a bit, and that is the harpsichord continuo of Céline Frisch. It is probably at least in part an aspect of the recording, but there is some way in which this instrument seems to exist on a slightly distinct plane to the rest of the orchestra. My first instinct was that it was not quite entirely ‘on top of’ the rhythm as it should be – just a fraction late. That might be going too far, but perhaps there is a case for continuo being at least co-conspiratorial with the leader or conductor, and somehow being more at the front of the notes rather than in the middle. In the end perhaps the balance might just have needed to be a fraction less to allow the instrument to blend more. It does sort of blend in the way harpsichords do with strings, but it also distracts; often to be heard lingering in notes which have already been moved on from by the orchestra.
For the Vasks Concerto there is award winning competition from the Ondine label with John Storgårds as soloist and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra (see review), as well as from Levon Ambartsumian and the ARCO Chamber Orchestra from Phoenix (see review) and the BIS label with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Katarina Andreasson (see review). Dedicated to Gidon Kremer, the première recording appeared in 1999 on Teldec 3984-22660-2 but this has become hard to acquire. Hyperion have also recorded this work with Anthony Marwood and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (CDA67496). This is a very good piece, but one wonders quite how many good performances we might need of it on record before its secrets start to wear a little thin. Of the ones I have heard I think the BIS version wins out in terms of sheer passion and animated contrast and atmosphere, something which the cooler Capuçon and COE don’t quite deliver. The performance on the Ondine label also digs deep in a more Gidon Kremer-like way and is also preferable to Capuçon and the COE, though is arguably not quite as luminous as Andreasson and the SCO.
With the stiffness of competition in all of this repertoire I’m afraid this release doesn’t quite float my boat as much as I had hoped. I agree mightily with the mixture of repertoire and these are all fine performances, but they don’t make it onto my desert-island pile.
Dominy Clements
Previous review: Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos