INKPOT#59 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: ELGAR, SIBELIUS Violin Concertos (Naxos)
|JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, op.47Sir EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor op.61*DONG-SUK KANG violin
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra · Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra*
conducted by Adrian Leaper
by Isaac Koh
Kang comes off best in the second movement, where his relaxed tone spins out the tender themes beautifully. However, the recording again detracts from the achievement of the playing as the orchestra becomes slightly shrill at times. The “aural wallpaper” quality of the recording actually aids in creating a hazy atmosphere here. The gypsy-themed third movement is relatively disappointing. The orchestra is a key factor in providing the pulsating background that interjects dramatically — here it sounds absolutely puny. Kang’s rendition also does not have the “hop, skip and jump” quality of the best versions. The harmonic passage near the end also does not raise the hair on my nape. This movement does not emerge as a roller-coaster ride as it should as Kang does not flourish the power required to pull it off convincingly.
In contrast, the Elgar is a much greater success. The orchestra is immaculately captured, coming across full and appropriately weighty right from the opening “Windflower” theme. The rich and warm sound of the musicians reveal the inherent richness in the sweeping score. The entrance of Kang is rapturously expressive, intoning a doom-laden snarl. He plays extremely confidently, making small play of the difficult running passages. It is obvious that Kang is in perfect empathy with the spirit of the music. The first movement culminates impressively, the rapid bowing of the soloist building up a frenzy. The heart-wrenching second movement is beautifully conveyed, with Leaper controlling every ebb and swell expertly. The descending notes just before the end of the movement are most magically done, accompanied by a heart-breaking turn of phrase that perhaps suggests a realization that there is no returning to the past. The complicated passages in the third movement pose no challenge for Kang’s technique. He dispatches the choppy notes easily, sliding into easy trills and extended notes easily. The soloist is on top of his game throughout, even during the extended cadenza-like passage where he sustains interest despite the sparse material. The only quibble of Kang’s playing is his airy high register which does not possess sufficient evenness. The concerto comes to a sure finish, the closing chords emphatically assertive.Kang’s lack of international reputation should not dissuade you from purchasing this disc if you enjoy the Elgar and are looking to acquire a listening copy (see also our review of the recently-released Kennedy recording). For the novice wanting to get acquainted with the Elgar, this is an ideal first purchase, given its affordable price. Kang is a exciting violinist, and I would certainly attend a “live” performance should the opportunity arise. Similarly, I have enjoyed the playing of the PNRSO under Antoni Wit in Smetana’s Ma Vlast (Naxos 8.550931) and the conducting of Adrian Leaper with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky (Marche Slave, Capriccio Italien, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy and 1812 Overture; Naxos 8.550500).Ultimately, you will want to get this disc for the Elgar. For those who do not wish to obtain another version of the Sibelius, there exists an alternative issue of the Elgar concerto with the Cockaigne overture (Naxos 8.550489, 61 minutes). Informative notes, as usual, from Naxos, an impressive hallmark of a label that is budget in price but not of quality.