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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1903/05) [33:41]
Six Humoresques, Op. 87 and Op. 89 for Violin and Orchestra (1917) [20:40]
Nors S. JOSEPHSON (b. 1942)
Celestial Voyage (2019) [8:52]
Fenella Humphreys (violin)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/George Vass
rec. 2020, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

This recording has been issued under the auspices of the Sibelius Society UK in association with BBC Radio 3 and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The executive producer is Edward Clark, president of the Society. All of the works feature the violin, and the recording enlists the services of British violinist Fenella Humphreys, winner of the 2018 BBC Music Magazine instrumental Award and a champion of new and unknown music.

Although the performance of the Violin Concerto enters a crowded playing field, Humphreys’ reading stands up well, evoking both Nordic chill and magnificent landscapes. Power and virtuosity sit comfortably with rapt expression and savoured lyricism, maintaining the work’s epic stature. The slow movement captures the music’s dark, brooding and introspective qualities, and the finale showcases some fearsome virtuosity, working up a real head of steam. There’s an ideal sound balance struck between orchestra and soloist. Vass contributes inspirational and atmospheric support throughout.

Despite the fact that the two groups of Humoresques were published separately as Op. 87 and Op. 89, it was the composer’s wish that they be performed together. They’re magical works and, if you’ve not heard them, you’ll quickly fall under their spell. Quite why they’ve been neglected in the the concert hall and the recording studio baffles me. Each is a masterful and whimsical invention. I only hope that Humphrey’s convincing readings will help project them into the limelight. Each is so different. The first pitches introspection against flights of fancy, whilst the second is athletic and capricious. Sibelius injects some pawky humour into No. 5, with Humphreys’ harmonics crystal clear and luminescent.

Credited with a completion of Bruckner’s Ninth, American musicologist and composer Nors S. Josephson’s Celestial Voyage comfortably complements the Sibelius selection. Josephson packs much into this nine minute work. The tenor of the music is gentle, warm, intimate and comforting. Lyrical and melodically generous, the violin soars and is wafted along in the breeze. Humphreys caresses the lines with ardent fervour. Vass is fully supportive, and achieves some magical moments pointing up the woodwind lines. There’s a cadenza towards the end, which certainly doesn’t feel out of place.

These are thrilling performances in demonstration sound quality. This is a perfect marriage between soloist, conductor and orchestra. The synergy between violinist and conductor is palpable, and the orchestral playing is of the highest order. As for Fenella Humphreys, she has this music in her blood.

Stephen Greenbank

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