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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)
Celine 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 is what I like to see: a record label coupling popular works with far less known pieces. Even better if they are from contrasting eras which is the case here; the Bach and the Vasks concertos being separated by some two hundred and seventy years. Another point of interest is that this Erato release heralds Renaud Capuçon’s first recording as both soloist and conductor.
Capuçon has elected to play Bach’s celebrated pair of Violin Concertos - thought to have been composed around 1730. Both baroque works contain gorgeous melodies and are designed with traditionally quick and durable outer movements framing an expressive slow core. With unmistakable assurance Capuçon’s playing is alert and buoyant allowing the music to glow with life. He maintains an elegant and subtle control that is wonderfully articulated.
Of the contemporary composers Latvian Pēteris Vasks receives considerable attention. I have seen his works appearing occasionally in concert programmes and he seems to do quite well with recordings. The ‘Distant Light’ Concerto was written in 1996/97 for his Latvian compatriot Gidon Kremer, the dedicatee of the score who gave the premiere in 1997. This work has gained considerable attention and was awarded the Latvian Music Grand Prix in 1997. Cast in a single continuous movement, it is divided into eight distinct sections with three of these being substantial cadenzas. Vasks has described the score as containing “Nostalgia with a touch of tragedy. Childhood memories, but also the glittering stars millions of light-years away.” Although at one time a composer of the progressive and the experimental, in this work Vasks has written highly accessible music.
The relatively lengthy opening and closing Andante sections feature especially impressive writing, mysterious in character with slight hints of a sinister undertow. At times the flow is so regular that it feels a touch electronic. I was struck by the boldness and ebullience of the Mosso and the glorious tender playing of the second Cantabile that gradually increases in weight with an emerging undercurrent of anguish. In the closing Andante the writing rises gradually heavenwards in a stream of glorious lyricism. Throughout, Capuçon’s unforced playing is so marvellously smooth and radiates a real sense of purity.
Directing from the violin, Capuçon has clearly developed a wonderful rapport with the players of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe who provide sympathetic playing throughout. Capuçon obtains a gorgeous timbre from his Guarneri del Gesù ‘Panette’ (1737). The engineers have secured a cool, clear and beautiful balanced sound.
Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos