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Béla BARTÓK (1882-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1907-08) [21.39]
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1937-38) [38.20]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/François-Xavier Roth
rec. 2017 Jerwood Hall, LSO St. Lukes, UBS & LSO Music Education Centre, London
ERATO 9029570807 [60.11]

Following performances at the Verbier Festival in 2007 of Bartók’s first violin sonata with Martha Argerich, Renaud Capuçon felt inspired to absorb himself with the Hungarian composer’s pair of violin concertos. Here on Erato Capuçon has recorded the two concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under principal guest conductor François-Xavier Roth.

As a composer and pianist Bartók had only a rudimentary knowledge of stringed instruments gained from his time at Royal Music Academy, Budapest yet he left a significant legacy of works featuring strings. Bartók’s first violin concerto is an early composition, published posthumously. Although originally planned as a three-movement concerto the result was a two-movement score written for the eighteen-year-old violinist Stefi Geyer, with whom Bartók was in love. Geyer did not reciprocate Bartók’s feelings and although accepting the score it seems she didn’t play it, and it remained forgotten during both the composer’s lifetime and that of Geyer. It wasn’t until 1958, thirteen years after his death that the score was premiered by Hansheinz Schneeberger at Basel. The far better known of the pair of violin concertos is the second, completed around thirty years later in 1938. At the time of its composition Bartók was fraught with concerns about the increasing spread of fascism and his anti-fascist views were undesirable to the government authorities in Hungary; such anxieties surely colour the work. It was soloist Zoltán Székely who introduced the three-movement concerto in 1939 at Amsterdam.

There’s an inexorable sincerity to Renaud Capuçon’s violin playing together with glorious expression and imposing technical proficiency. At every point, the performances feel completely spontaneous. The aching sadness with which Capuçon invests the intense and atmospheric opening movement of the first concerto is striking. In the second concerto the final movement is notable for playing of outstanding rhythmic vitality, contrasted with calm reflection. Under François-Xavier Roth, LSO don’t put a foot wrong, being a model of unity and musicality throughout. Recorded for Erato at Jerwood Hall in London, the engineering team for Erato has provided satisfying clarity and owing to a reasonably wide dynamic range a certain amount of volume adjustment was necessary. The uncredited booklet essay provides extremely helpful information. It’s a pity that the available space on the disc wasn’t used to accommodate say one of Bartók’s two Rhapsodies for violin and orchestra.

Of the competing recordings in the catalogue there are several that I can recommend. Outstandingly played by Kyung Wha Chung there is the first concerto with Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1983 coupled with the second concerto with LSO from 1976 at Kingsway Hall, London, both conducted by Georg Solti on Decca. Midori is on her finest form with Berliner Philharmoniker under Zubin Mehta recorded 1989-90 at Philharmonie, Berlin on Sony. In the first concerto only, there is the marvelously assured playing of Gidon Kremer with Berliner Philharmoniker under Pierre Boulez recorded 2004 at Philharmonie, Berlin. New on Erato Renaud Capuçon’s performances in the Bartók concertos match any I’ve heard and are eminently recommendable.

Michael Cookson


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