Vilde Frang Tchaikovsky and Nielsen: Violin Concertos (Danish National Symphony Orchestra / Eivind Gullberg Jensen) Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Frang’s vigour, irreverence and imagination make her a vital and refreshing force.

Andrew Mellor 2012

Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang showcases more of her striking imagination and fastidious care on this new release.

It was in Norway that Carl Nielsen started to write his Violin Concerto, commenting at the time that he was keen to avoid “hackneyed passagework” and create a piece that was “eventful, popular and splendid without being superficial”. What a friend he’d have found in the young Frang.

Her performance of the Nielsen concerto is certainly eventful – it is, by turns frail, sniping, petulant, servile, gregarious and proud. Her quiet playing has exquisite control and her measured use of vibrato reveals so many inner truths. For a yardstick on Frang’s musical intellect, try her cadenzas. They seem to contain a world of philosophy and fortitude and are delivered with unfailing spaciousness and poise.

You can hear more extroverted and confident performances of the Nielsen concerto elsewhere, but Frang’s elfin delicacy and honest individuality are compelling. And the concerto actually sounds like Nielsen’s here, which it too often doesn’t. The major-minor games, the churning counterpoints, the stepwise harmonisations and the earthy orchestral timbres are nicely exposed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen.

Frang’s revisionist bent and distinctive light-but-physical tone have worked better in Nielsen, Sibelius and Prokofiev (she’s now recorded concertos by all three) than they have here in Tchaikovsky. His Violin Concerto feels more like work in progress and doesn’t have the air of chamber music interplay and spacious thought that the same artists achieve in the Nielsen. 

There’s no shortage of interesting stuff going on: some smile-inducing twists in tempo, typically probing cadenzas and an idiosyncratic yet un-contrived handling of the many successive passages of patterning sequences. Ultimately, though, you miss a sense of sweep – those lived-in emotional residues that some of the great violinists have brought to this piece before.

But Frang’s lack of nostalgia – her vigour, irreverence and imagination – makes her a vital and refreshing force. It’s a little like hearing the bright, homespun opinions of a rebellious but visionary teenager who doesn’t see the world like the rest of us. And that’s precisely what this anti-aristocratic music needs.

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