Album review: Brahms & Bartok Violin Concertos

By William Dart

Last year, Janine Jansen filled Auckland Town Hall playing Tchaikovsky with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, her performance melting all but the stoniest of hearts.

The Dutch violinist's new CD presents an unexpected coupling of concertos, mainstream Brahms and less familiar Bartok. The marvellous Antonio Pappano conducts both, and the Brahms has the extra zing of a live performance with Rome's Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

There is an enviable sense of ease in Brahms' first movement, although its golden glow allows for brilliant outbursts of fire. Jansen's stylish detailing of the Joachim cadenza almost gives it the status of an independent solo.

Oboist Francesco Di Rosa is credited in the Adagio, and rightly so, as his shapely solo is the perfect springboard for Jansen's glorious lyricism; such is the sheer exhilaration of the Finale that, after the last chord has died away, one waits expectantly for an encore that never comes. But might the encore be Bartok's 1908 First Violin Concerto, clocking in at just under the 22 minutes of Brahms' first movement?

In this context, you'll easily succumb to the vibrant emotionalism of its opening Andante sostenuto, inspired by the Hungarian composer's love for the violinist Steffi Geyer.

Jansen has simpatico support from the London Symphony Orchestra strings for this great love song.

And then, having commented in the CD booklet how she has to be on her toes for all the tiny inflections of mood and expression in the second movement, she delivers an Allegro giocoso with the perfect balance of joy, sparkle and wit.

Brahms & Bartok Violin Concertos
(Harmonia Mundi, through Ode Records)
Verdict: A canny pairing of Brahms and Bartok in an inspiration for violinist Janine Jansen.

- Weekend magazine

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