Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Violin Concerto Op. 33 (1911) [40:05]
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Andante Religioso (1899) [7:18]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Romance Op. 26 (1881) [8:10]
Lisa Jacobs (violin)
Bremer Philharmoniker/Mikhail Agrest
rec. live, 11-12 November 2018 (Nielsen); 14 November 2018, Die Glocke, Bremen, Germany.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72799 [55:35]
Symphonic in scale, Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto is one of the finest to emerge in the newly born 20th century while still standing firmly with its feet in European classical and romantic tradition. Lisa Jacobs’ recording joins an already well stocked catalogue and has plenty of stiff competition, but it has a fine sound in a spacious acoustic, and with the Bremer Philharmonic on decent enough form. The opening is promising enough, and Jacobs takes a daring turn bending her upper note at one point in that first cadenza. If you know this piece reasonably well then you will however quite quickly notice the relatively spacious approach taken to the music here. I don’t dislike measured tempi, but comparing this with soloist Nikolaj Znaider also live with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert (review) we have 18:43 for the first movement compared to Jacobs’ 21:15 and 16:26 for the second movement against 18:50.
Timings aren’t everything, and for a start the New York crowd is a bit more noisy than that in Bremen. Lisa Jacobs’ performance is passionate and genuine, but doesn’t have quite the variety of tone or narrative pzaz of Nikolaj Znaider. Comparing that cadenza from 13:06 there are plenty of subtle dynamics, but Znaider is more emphatic and convincing in the folk/fiddle-elements that Nielsen slips in. The Poco adagio is good, and the final Rondo. Allegretto scherzando kicks in at exactly 6:30 but again at a tempo which means it never quite lifts off. It has been said that Nielsen was one amongst those artists who ‘wanted to give their times a black eye’, and while there is a certain integrity in this performance it seems either just a bit too pretty or reserved in its general impression to convey that idea. Vilde Frang is another violinist who gets more out of this concerto (review), and with more urgent tempi also has the support of a more energised sounding orchestra in the Danish National Symphony. This latter comparison just sounds so much more like Nielsen, which is what you want after all, right?
Like Nielsen, Johan Halvorsen was also a fine violinist, his compositional work however rather more in the style of Grieg. The Andante Religioso was orchestrated from an original for violin, organ and strings, and it is a delightfully tuneful romance that is good to hear but not especially memorable. Also a violinist as well as having a career as a conductor and later as a composer due to problems with his hands preventing him from playing, Johan Severin Svendsen was Norwegian rather than Danish, but worked for many years in Copenhagen. Svendsen is noted for his fine orchestration and was more of a symphonist than Halvorsen. The Romance Op. 26 is wider-ranging and more ambitious in its content, despite its apparently having been written in just two days.
Both of these works are given fine performances, but alas do not make up for something of an also-ran main show. Lisa Jacobs is a really fine player and has made good recordings of Haydn (review), Locatelli (review) and Paganini (review). If it wasn’t for all those pesky preferable alternatives then this would also have counted as a desirable Nielsen concerto, but those lacklustre tempi drag just a little too much for me to become truly enthusiastic.