May 03, 2007


Brahms: Violin Concerto; Double Concerto. Julia Fischer, violin; Daniel Müller-Schott, cello; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Amsterdam conducted by Yakov Kreizberg. PentaTone. $19.99 (SACD).

Holst: Brook Green Suite; A Song of the Night for Violin and Orchestra; St. Paul’s Suite; Lyric Movement for Viola and Chamber Orchestra; A Fugal Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Strings; Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra. Janice Graham and Sarah Ewins, violins; Andriy Viytovych, viola; Anna Pyne, flute; Philip Harmer, oboe; English Sinfonia conducted by Howard Griffiths. Naxos. $8.99.

      Brahms’ grandly symphonic works for violin and for violin and cello get unusually warm, lyrical readings in this new PentaTone SACD – abetted by the excellent sound that is a PentaTone standard. In fact, the sound is so wide-range that standard CD players do not get its full benefit: quiet passages may require raising the volume to hear them clearly, but if you do that, loud ones will practically blast through your ears. This is one SACD that truly sounds best in the multi-speaker format for which it was made. The performances themselves are first-rate. Julia Fischer plumbs the lyrical depths of the Violin Concerto, while Yakov Kreizberg’s excellent accompaniment gives it full symphonic splendor – and shows its structural parallels with the Piano Concerto No. 1. Fischer has plenty of power when needed, and her first-movement cadenza is outstanding. But she excels in the work’s more inward-focused sections, especially its tender slow movement – after which the fast and intense opening of the finale comes as a real shock (a pleasant one). The Double Concerto is not quite as successful, because Daniel Müller-Schott’s excellent technique is not yet matched by interpretative subtlety (although he is several years older than Fischer, who was just 22 when she made this recording of the Double Concerto in 2005). Still, the first movement offers joyous intertwining of the soloists and very full tone from the cello. The second proffers beauty but seems a tad superficial. The finale, however, is bouncy and playful and makes a joyful conclusion – with the whole performance abetted, as in the Violin Concerto, by nuanced, sensitive conducting by Kreizberg and top-notch playing by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Amsterdam.

      Gustav Holst’s Double Concerto – which is for two violins – is far less known than Brahms’, and written in quite a different style. It is the most dissonant and least immediately accessible work on the new Naxos CD of Holst’s music, and its uneven rhythms and bitonality will not sound particularly “Holstian” to listeners who know this composer only from The Planets and perhaps a few other works. The English Sinfonia and the two violin soloists play the concerto with enthusiasm and skill, but it is likely to be most appealing to listeners in its lyrical sections, which Holst uses to separate some of his more dramatic excursions away from easy-on-the-ear music. The other works on this CD are more familiar. Brook Green Suite gets a full-bodied performance with folklike charm. A Song of the Night is lyrical and heartfelt. The St. Paul’s Suite has plenty of bounce and rhythmic vitality, and considerable delicacy as well. The Lyric Movement is songlike, with warmth at the start that turns into intensity later. And the Fugal Concerto is light (not an adjective usually used with fugal works) and clearly orchestrated, with a brisk finale whose wide leaps are surprising and attractive. All the soloists perform admirably, and Howard Griffiths conducts with enthusiasm and understanding. For those who know little of Holst, this CD offers a welcome chance to explore some of his highly varied compositions.

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