Brahms, Bartók 1
London Symphony Orchestra
Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano, conductor
Janine Jansen and the Violin Concertos
Forty years divide Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major (1878), dedicated to the composer’s friend and accomplished fiddler Joseph Joachim, and Bartók’s Violin Concerto no. 1 (1908), dedicated to his beloved Stefi Geyer, who was to leave him a week after he completed the score. However, violinist Janine Jansen does not consider them very different. When she decided to record the two works together, she declared that «to me they seem a natural pairing. They may speak a different kind of musical language, yet they not only share a Hungarian connection, but also a profound combination of symphonic power and chamber-scale intimacy».
Despite their differences, Jansen’s recording is not broken when Brahms’s concerto ends and Bartók’s begins. The lyricism that our violinist infuses to Brahms’s second movement and to Bartók’s idealized portrait of Stefi Geyer in the first movement is quite similar. Moreover, the echo of Brahms’s third movement is present, in a witty and more refined way, in the second movement of Bartók’s concerto.
Overall, the impression is that the two works are not erroneously coupled and the recording is coherent.
The two works do not belong to the same recording session. Brahms’s concerto was performed live at Santa Cecilia Hall in Rome in February 2015. Bartók’s concerto dates to 2014, when it was recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. In the former, the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia joins Pappano and Jansen; in the latter, it is the London Symphony Orchestra which plays with them. What is amazing is that soloist and orchestra seem to dialogue rather than to contrast. They give an impression of familiarity and intimacy reminding of a friendly conversation or, in musical terms, of a small private concert. In addition to this, the recorded sound is warm and lustrous.
It is therefore virtually impossible to remain indifferent to this recording.
Janine Jansen and Brahms’s Violin Concerto
The first work is Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Even if the Allegro non troppo is twenty-two minutes long, actually it seems much shorter than that. This is first and foremost merit of Pappano’s conduction, which is brisk and energetic and makes the music flow without obstacles and with fluidity. The thoughtful, refined and sympathetic passages, as the one that accompanies the entry of the violin, balance other moments, where greater decision and firmness are necessary. As for Jansen, she follows Pappano’s path and gives a sensitive performance of the Allegro non troppo, with an inclination towards serene contemplation.
The Adagio echoes and widens the poetical side of the previous movement. The idyllic introduction is particularly remarkable for the soft sound of the orchestra. For her part, Jansen is even more absorbed by music than in the Allegro non troppo and her violin seems to represent a daydream. In some passages, you may have the impression that time has stopped. The final Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace has a completely different character. Here, Pappano and Jansen reach a sprightly conclusion.
Janine Jansen and Bartók’s Violin Concerto
Bartók’s Concerto is divided between the ecstatic Andante sostenuto and the witty Allegro giocoso. With Pappano and Jansen, the first movement is a pensive, quiet meditation on the idealization of Stefi Geyer. It seems that they were trying to justify it in a psychological way – but idealization it still remains; Actually, in this performance there is something intangible, beyond this world.
The second movement is far from the previous one. It opens with some cheeky notes that already outline the amusing and ironic portrait of Stefi Geyer. It then continues with the same spirit, superbly depicted by Jansen and Pappano.
Janine Jansen and Antonio Pappano shed lustre on Bartók’s and Brahms’s music. The insight and perfect understanding of the two performers give prominence to the most significant features of the two concertos and make them compatible with each other despite the different time of composition. In the end, this recording is really a gem.