Classical Music

Beethoven & Stravinsky Violin Concertos: Vilde Frang amazes


A very exciting, musically satisfying disc: and a great coupling!


Violinist Vilde Frang impressed in her performance of Bartók’s First Violin Concerto at the Berlin Festival this year, as you can read in this post. So when this disc appeared on the doormat, it gained guaranteed entry into Classical Explorer‘s halls.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is one of the greatest in the repertoire, with an expansve first movement, truly glorious Larghetto that moves straight into an exuberant rondo. It was written in 1806 by Beethoven, and although teh first performances were not so successful, it now holds its head high at the top of teh concerto tree.

Her Beethoven is phenomenal, nuanced and not afraid of a true pianissimo. When it comes to the cadenza of the first movement, Frang plays the Beethoven cadenza from the piano concerto arrangement (Op. 61a), which includes a part for timpani and which we previously met in the piano version here. Also as a by the by, remember we reviewed Vadim Gluzman on BIS, who played Schnittke’s cadenzas. Before that, though, there is magic galore in a completely rethought  interpretation. It hel[s, I am sure , that the conductor is a fellow violinist, Pekka Kuusisto (who, strangely, had played Thomas Adès’ Violin Concerto at the Berlin Festival this year: review post), and that I am sure has much to do with the way violin and orchestra work so well together here:

The opening of the slow movement is a dream from the orchestra, while solo clarinet and solo violin interactions are simply beautiful in this performance. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is clearly a fine ensemble, and they give their best for Kuusisto. This is an absolute oasis of peace; and Frang manages to sound properly quasi-improvisatory, too. And the way the Bremen orchestra disg in before Frang’s frenetic inserted cadenza prior to the finale opening is remarkable, while the finale itself glows with life (and listen to the Principal Oboe’s delightful little decorations, and Frang’s stunning cadenza):

Vilde Frang

Certainly in comparison with the Beethoven, the Stravinsky rarely makes it to the concert hall. Yet it is a powerful work, perfectly Stravinsky in all respects. Written for the violinist Samuel Dushkin in 1931 (and used by Balanchine as the basis for ballets), it requires an analytical ear from the conductor to present Stravinsky’s lines with utter precision, and a violinist of superhuman capabilities.

The work opens with a Toccata with a famous  chord for the violinist that its dedicatee initially thought unplayable. There’s some lovely, almost-circus music there too:

The strict tempos kept by Grang and Kuusisto, so necessary to this piece, are a major contributing factor to its success – so is the brilliantly clear recording. The final hord has a comic edge I haven’t heard before here.

That same notorious chord begins Aria I (of two) and seems to me to be of the world of Pulcinella; worth noting that again there are moments from Frang that seem improvised on the spot:

Aria II is darker, a lamenting song that leads to the fireworks of the finale, with its chuckling bassoons and brilliant woodwind offbeats and what I can only call a Soldier’s Tale moment!. Here’s the finale:

A very exciting, musically satisfying disc: and a great coupling!

Beethoven Stravinsky Frang



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