Tuesday 27 May 2014

Jennifer Pike in the Sibelius Violin Concerto

Sibelius Violin Concerto = Chandos CHSA 5134
Sibelius Violin Concerto and other works: Jennifer Pike, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis: Chandos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New version of an old classic from talented young violinist.

On this new disc from Chandos, the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician records Sibelius's Violin Concerto with one of the world's oldest orchestras. Jennifer Pike (who won the BBC Young Musician in 2002) is the soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (founded in 1765), conductor Andrew Davis in a programme which includes Sibelius's Violin Concerto plus the Karelia Suite, Swan of Tuonela, Valse lyrique, Valse triste, Andante festivo and Finlandia.

Sibelius's Violin Concerto was written in 1902 and revised in 1905. It has become one of the icons of the Romantic violin repertoire, throbbing with passion and made all the more fascinating by being filtered through Sibelius's Northern Scandinavian sensibility. The solo part is often associated with artists with a Big Romantic Technique (Jascha Heifetz, who recorded it with Sir Thomas Beecham, and Ida Handel). On this new recording, Jennifer Pike brings a rather sensibility to the work. Pike does not throb with passion, instead she sings with elegant poetic tone, both fine-grained and slim. She is ably supported by Andrew Davis who does a nice line in suppressed passion with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a very controlled performance, but one which simmers.

Pike opens the concerto playing on a thread of sound, with elegant tone. Speeds are quite steady with the orchestra quiet but darkly brooding. The whole performance from Pike and Davis has a slow build steadiness rather than being impulsive. For the second subject Davis and the orchestra finally unleash the pent-up excitement. Pike copes superbly with the thicket of notes in the solo part, playing with a poetic feel to her sweetly singing tone.

This continues into the second movement, where Pike's darkly burnished violin sound sings with melancholy. It is quite a considered performance, but there are some heavenly moments. The finale is notable for the superb rhythmic pointing which both soloist and orchestra bring to the music, creating a real feeling of excitement and working up a real head of steam.

This is a fascinating look at one of the standards of the repertoire with Pike demonstrating consummate technique and a fine poetic sensibility, well supported by Andrew Davis and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.

The companion pieces are a selection of Sibelius's popular smaller orchestra works. One of the stand-out performances is an account of The Swan of Tuonela notable for its great tonal beauty, transparency of playing and lovely poetic phrasing combined with a fabulous cor anglais solo from Hege Sellevag. It made me wish that Chandos had chosen to record something more substantial such as the complete Leminkainen Legends. Instead we get a highly atmospheric account of the Karelia Suite (again with a fine cor anglais solos from Sellavag), delightful versions of the Valse lyrique, Valse triste and Andante Festivao, all completed with a stirring account of Finlandia.

Throughout Davis and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra are on impressive form. Jennifer Pike is certainly a talent to watch and many people will want to have her elegantly poetic account of the Sibelius Violin Concerto on a disc which makes an attractive package with Sibelius's incidental works in fine performances from Davis and the orchestra.

Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op.47 [31.55]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Karelia Suite, Op.11 [15.51]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - The Swan of Tuonela, Op.22 No.2 [8.16]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Valse lyrique, Op.96a[4.09]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Valse triste Op.44 No.1 [5.03]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Andante festivo, JS 34b [4.06]
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) - Finlandia, Op.26 8.16]
Jennifer Pike (violin)
Bergen Philarmonic Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
Recorded 17-20 June 2013, Griehallen, Bergen, Norway
Chandos CHSA 5134 1Cd [78.24]

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