Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1; Romance in F for viola and orchestra. Janine Jansen, violin; Riccardo Chailly, Gewandhausorchester. Decca B0007260-2.

It's hard to argue with success, especially when the successful person is a world-famous, attractive, virtuoso violinist like Janine Jansen. However, it's hard to tell just which of these qualities Decca is selling here, given that Ms. Jansen is featured seven times on the CD cover and in the booklet insert. Indeed, the sixteen-page booklet devotes nine of its pages to pictures of the artist, several of them two-page spreads. Well, you can't blame the company, I suppose. Selling classical albums is like selling anything else. Which in this case is some very well-played music.

Ms. Jansen approaches the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor in a traditional manner, with her dexterity and poetic touch well in evidence, the Concerto giving her ample opportunity to show her skills since it begins by introducing the violin from the outset. She says that for her it is not the familiar, grand opening movement or even the rousing finale but the slow second movement Andante that is at the heart of the work; so, naturally, it is here that she concentrates her efforts, bringing it off quite fluently and tenderly. Then after that moment of repose, she dazzles us with her brilliant technique in the closing Allegro.

She chose two accompanying pieces, one familiar, the other not. The familiar is Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, a work that in many ways imitates, or at least pays tribute, to the Mendelssohn, and, as expected, Ms. Jansen brings it off well, too. But of more importance, perhaps, since most of us already have the Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos in favorite performances, is her viola playing in the Bruch Romance. It is only about eight minutes long, but it is quite haunting.

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is one of the oldest orchestras in the world, depending on how you measure such things, and it is the orchestra that premiered the Mendelssohn Concerto, so you could say the players have the music in their blood. The Decca engineers caught their relatively new chief conductor at the time, Riccardo Chailly, and the group in a live performance, although you would never guess it unless you read the fine print on the last page of the disc booklet. They miked the orchestra fairly close up, so you don't get any of that vague, distant, dullish sound that you do with many live recordings, with audience noises and applause at the end. Instead, you get what appears to be a good studio recording, with plenty of robust frequency range and dynamics coming from a dead-quite background, the applause apparently edited out. It's a good proposition all the way around.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa