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Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op. 21 (1874) [32.43]
Pablo DE SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 (1878) [7.46]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1866, rev. 1867) [23.07]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Orchestre de Paris/Paavo Järvi
rec. 25, 27 May 2015 (Bruch), 1-2 September 2015 (Lalo, Sarasate) Grand Salle, Philharmonie de Paris, France
WARNER ERATO 2564 698276 [65.47]

French violinist Renaud Capuçon writes in the accompanying booklet that these scores composed between 1868 and 1878 rank amongst the most celebrated in the history of violin and orchestra. Capuçon has a close connection to this music. He was aged twelve when he first encountered them studying with Veda Reynolds.

Lalo, a contemporary of Schumann and Brahms, was widely admired in his day. The Symphonie espagnole, really a five movement suite, is now his most recorded and performed work by some distance. As the majority of recordings are not new, I sense that Lalo has become rather unfashionable. In fact I can’t recall when I last saw a Lalo composition programmed in a UK concert or recital. Then in his fifties Lalo’s friendship with Sarasate clearly fired him to write a work to match the Basque violinist’s extraordinary facility. An off-putting aspect in the opening movement is the rather brash orchestral fanfare, an outburst which is soon repeated. After this gaudy outpouring I feel able to enjoy Lalo’s extremely summery and appealing writing. It has about it something of a reverie imbued with a robust Iberian tang. Using seguidilla dance rhythms the Scherzando can easily evoke life in a Spanish village. With memorable rhythms, the colourful Intermezzo complete with habanera is evidently of Moorish origin. Achingly tender and reflective the Andante has an undertow of melancholy. The bravura Finale is one of unalloyed joy with its fair share of heartbreaking melodies. Dazzling and engaging throughout the eloquent Capuçon makes a persuasive case for rehabilitating this score into the standard repertoire.

Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Tunes/Airs) remains one of the Pamplona-born Sarasate’s best known compositions. Written in 1878 in a single movement divided into four distinct sections the virtuoso violinist/composer employs, as the titles suggests, Roma themes which he probably heard during a Hungarian tour in 1877. In this dark, impetuous and passionate score Capuçon revels in the virtuosic writing and captures its rapturous emotional character.

One of the most admired of all classical works Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 was for several years winner of the Classic FM Hall of Fame. It is surprising that Capuçon hasn’t recorded it before now. The main drawback of selecting this work is that the competition in the catalogues is extremely fierce. It has been recorded by virtually every violinist worth his or her salt, often becoming a benchmark by which performers are judged. Completed in 1866 and revised in 1867 Bruch dedicated the score to the Hungarian Joseph Joachim who went on to première the revised version in 1868. Eclipsed by tremendous popularity it is often forgotten that Bruch actually wrote two other fine violin concertos as well as many other splendid scores for violin and orchestra. Capuçon’s interpretation is persuasive and highly poetic and his lyrical aria-like approach feels ideal. In the opening movement he does not over-emphasize the Jewish-sounding melodies in the way that some other performers tend to do. Admirable is the way Capuçon relishes the long melodic line with buoyant playing that is both engrossing and committed. In the beautiful Adagio Capuçon’s sensitivity is infused with tenderness and no small degree of introspection. He is not afraid to slow right down (points 6.40-7.32) and his engagement reaches a deep level of expression that can make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. There is an agreeable ebullience to the playing of the Finale as he navigates a wide range of emotions with great assurance. He has the full measure of the music’s rhythmic impetus.

From the large number of recommendable recordings of the Bruch I have narrowed down my preferences to two. The first is played by Jaime Laredo who also directs the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on IMP Classics. Laredo’s special account is warm and extremely characterful - full of joy and spontaneity. Also admirable is the convincing and highly poetic live account by Janine Jansen with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. This was recorded by Decca in 2006 at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig.

On the present recording Capuçon plays his Guarneri del Gesù ‘Panette’ (1737) and brings to these performances real panache and a persuasive sense of maturity. An account that is certainly right up there with the finest, I wouldn’t be disappointed if this was the only recording of the Bruch in my collection.

Throughout the programme under the orchestra provides polished playing entirely sympathetic to the needs of the soloist. The sound team has excelled providing crystal clear sound together with a satisfying balance between violin soloist and orchestra.

On Erato this is a most beautiful release of Romantic music compellingly played. It will undoubtedly have broad appeal.

Michael Cookson



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