Violin

Review of Beethoven and Stravinsky’s violin concertos – Frang and Kuusisto create softness, swagger and exaltation | Classical music

Jhere are two violinists at work on this recording, and that takes nothing away from Vilde Frang’s exhilarating performance to say it. In Beethoven’s concerto there is nothing remotely laborious about his playing, but his light touch and unerringly sweet tone are the vehicle for a satisfying performance on a grand scale. In the Stravinsky this softness takes on a swagger and firmness of purpose that give way to reveal something dark and deeply felt in the slow movement. In both works, his playing is constantly sensitive to the swirling currents of electrical energy in the music.

Vilde Frang/Pekka Kuusisto: cover of Beethoven Stravinsky’s Violin Concertos album

But she is not alone in this case. The other violinist is Pekka Kuusisto, who freely admits that he made fun of instrumentalists who thought they could become a conductor “just like that”, but who might have to swallow his words: in just a few years, a hand injury l led him to be absent from the game for several months, he developed a flourishing parallel career on the podiums. This is his first recording as a conductor and, in front of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen – with whom he holds the position of best artistic friend – he is insightful and totally in control. Not a single note, whether from Frang or from the excellent musicians of the Kammerphilharmonie, is routine – the level of attention to detail is extremely gratifying.

In the Beethoven, the colossal first movement in particular has an easy flow that belies its scale, and the end of this movement is brilliantly handled, moving from a deep sense of peace to affirming joy in seconds. In the Stravinsky, the blowing orchestral engine is restless, absolutely in time but constantly varying in texture, thanks to the care of the colors of the musicians of the Kammerphilharmonie. They form the perfect support for Frang’s research playing, Kuusisto using his extensive knowledge of these scores to draw soloist and orchestra into a tightly knit team.

The other choice of the week

During lockdown, violinist Sara Trickey began making weekly YouTube videos in which she performed short solo pieces at home; in From an Empty Room, she brings together 10 of these works in a vast program. As well as an elegant retelling of Prokofiev’s last solo sonata and simply eloquent Telemann, it includes early recordings of works by Sally Beamish and Errollyn Wallen, pieces written for Trickey by David Matthews, Lyell Cresswell and James Francis Brown, and a hauntingly beautiful piece by 20th-century Norwegian composer Bjarne Brustad.