A stimulating coupling of the Violin Concertos by Johannes Brahms and György Ligeti, linked by the superb artistry of Augustin Hadelich, vibrantly supported by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, this release’s success owing as much to him and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
The opening of the Brahms is a statement of intent, buzzing with promise, and how well the orchestra is captured – full and open and playing with a concert intensity handsomely generated for the studio microphones, an introduction which Hadelich is totally responsive to, as his first entry – commanding (while naturally balanced) – wholly testifies. Hadelich goes onto to give a sweetly lyrical (avoiding schmaltz), fiery and dug-into account of the first movement, orchestra and conductor remaining fully and significantly in the picture, with moulded phrasing and gutsy attack, and pianissimos that hold the attention. Hadelich adds his own cadenza, starting and ending like Joachim’s and going off tastefully in other directions in between – perhaps not quite matching those by Busoni and Reger, both championed by Gidon Kremer, but pleasing and intrinsic. With a spacious slow movement (poetically led by oboe and the Harmonien), a love-song from Hadelich (suggesting you are my heart’s delight, as Lehár would later coin), and a Finale that is judiciously speeded, with a snap to the rhythms, this is an account of the Brahms that is right up there with the very best.
Leave the disc running to enter the surreal world of György Ligeti (1923-2006). His Violin Concerto (from 1990) for Saschko Gawriloff underwent major surgery a couple of years later, one movement dropped, two added, making five. It’s a fascinating work (recorded by Gawriloff on DG, Boulez conducting) that opens with rapidity, the violinist tuning himself into a folk-fiddler before the orchestra adds numerous glints and tints, and Ligeti certainly uses a wide range of colours, including brass-writing that echoes Stravinsky. It’s stylistically wide-ranging, too, for the second movement ‘Aria’ is a melodious lament, rather Bartókian, and embracing the haunting regretful timbre (wind through trees) of differently tuned ocarinas, non-tempered tonality piled upon non-tempered tonality. Whereas the third movement breezes-in innocently, as if in mid-sentence, but soon turns into a nightmarish crescendo, high frequencies circling overhead like vultures. There follows a slowly-evolving ‘Passacaglia’ of dark mystery that reaches a zenith of emotion; and, finally, ‘Appassionato’, which lives up to its name, swirling manically to looked-for resolution via flashbacks and violent/stentorian orchestral interjections and – cueing this issue’s second ‘new’ cadenza – one by Thomas Adès, which is a brilliant and total fit, leading to Ligeti’s witty pay-off. Stunning performance all-round.