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Britten, Korngold Violin Concertos
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Korngold & Britten: Violin Concertos
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Both concertos on this new disc were written when their composers were exiles in the USA around the time of World War II. The Korngold was completed in 1945, the Britten in 1939. In the course of the 1930's Korngold, an Austrian Jew, had become a prominent Hollywood composer, but could not return to his homeland after 1938; the young Britten, a pacifist, left the UK for New York shortly before the declaration of war in 1939. Both composers had been child prodigies and both concertos are centered aound the key of D, the most 'natural' key on the vioin and the tonal focus for the violin concertos fo Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
James Gaffigan conducts the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchesta on this recording.
Digital Booklet: Korngold & Britten: Violin Concertos
Digital Booklet: Korngold & Britten: Violin Concertos
Top customer reviews
That said, almost all of the favs I now home approach the Korngold in rather similar ways. The first movement is usually brought off as a nearly seamless song spun out into all manner of sparkle, until the chromatic harmonies take off on their own to strike even more star-fire from surrounding space.
Vilde Frang is developing apace as a performer and artist, such that she opens up an especially different vision of Korngold's first movement. Her phrasing evokes folk narrative as if mining precious metal meanings, not only from the shape of what is being sung, but also from all its connotations in epic, story, legend, myth and poem. She also lays out the familiar Korngold chromatic harmonies in ways that might take some getting used to, for some listeners at least. What we lose in terms of seamless song allows her to make this first movement something more than sparkle, hum-able tunes and filmic vistas. Her second movement (Romance: Andante) returns us to those singing Korngold melodies a plenty, yet Vilde Frang draws colors and shapes with rather more inwardness than many fine readings of the Korngold manage to find. Then the third movement takes off, but not just on road trips to fun holiday musical destinatations. There is a marked sense of real muscularity, as well as the kinship of our musical characterizations with, say, Till Eulenspiegel's Lustige Wittwe.
Considered in lingering retrospect, as the last notes of the final movement sound, I welcome the many ways in which Vilde Frang, the Frankfurt orchestra (and James Gaffigan, conductor) show that even Korngold could be himself while showing a sharper modernist edge that connotes Bartok and Shostakovich. Whether this way with Korngold will convince you or not, you probably owe it to yourself to give Frang and company a chance, even if you finally decide not to be persuaded.
What seemed challenging, fresh and high-minded in Vilde Frang's Korngold becomes near-genius as we get into the Britten violin concerto. My strongest fav so far has been Frank Peter Zimmerman, partnered by the Swedish RSO under Manfred Honeck. Szymanowski: Violin Concertos 1 + 2 / Britte That appreciation still stands, but surely Vilde Frang in Frankfurt with Gaffigan earns appreciation, too, capped by amazement. As with the Korngold chromatic sounds and shapes, all the musicians seem to have an uncommon sense of what Britten in doing in his own chromatically-edged writing in this concerto. Though Vilde Frang can manage a compelling songful tone, she again digs deeper into the quirky, many-sided flow of some essential narrative in the first movement that is immediately communicative, even if listener realizes that the story unfolding tells a much less obvious tale than most readings discover. Gaffigan and the Frankfurt players are utterly alert and totally on board, too.
When we transition to the next section (Vivace-Cadenza), the quickening flow seems utterly natural with no sense of anybody working hard to change gears. Though every bit of the music stays true to Britten's characteristic width and depth, it is not strange to discover passing moments of friendly recognition that fall readily into modern music contexts. Prokofiev and Stravinsky are neighbors, both in the rhythms and in the reaches of pointed fiddle articulation. The Cadenza is fierce, indeed. And it again transforms inevitably into the last concerto music section, Passacaglia. As the Frankfurt orchestra lets its music unfold, Gaffigan and the various players take full center stage with much of the fierce assertions that fired up Vilde Frang's Cadenza. Muscularity is just the passing force of these early Britten gestures, as the solo violin rejoins the concerto music with fragile edgemanship. As the orchestral players interact with the solo violin player, all cobwebs and dust and nostalgia that one might expect to be evoked by an old western Musical form like the passacaglia are dismissed as the flow goes on, into a sort of dancing march. Oddly enough, one set of connotations in this final part, stem, not from Bach or Telemann, but rather flower from Schubert through Bruckner. The music's force of assertion is compelling as Britten hammers the repetitions to shape a monumental sculpture in sound, drawing out the whole orchestra. Then when the solo violin joins again, the music is singing and speaking with the urgent pain of sad loss which one might hear, again retrospectively in passing, as having been underneath all the previous music, hidden. So, truly, deeply felt.
Neither reading will go down like bubbly. Both concertos turn out to be something else as Vilde Frang, Frankfurt and Gaffigan play. You may not really like everything that the musicians are doing, but give a listen, just in case this rises to being a keeper on your own shelves for Korngold and for Britten.
By contrast, the Britten piece is the real thing, fierce, brooding tonal but sometimes near atonal music that requires the listener to listen closely but rewards as much as it challenges. The concerto is intense. Change looms large in it with shifts in mood, sound, tempo. I don’t have anything more to say about it except that it’s a great one. I‘ll listen to it more often and with more interest than I will the Korngold piece and I’ll enjoy it. Again, Frang plays exceptionally well. I am especially attentive to intonation. (There is a major soloist whom I find hard to listen to mainly because I don’t like the sound he gets from his strings. I won’t tell you his name but he recorded duets with Martha Argerich in Germany a number of years back.) Frang’s violin sound is lovely –clear, clean and strong. I will be looking for her name on records henceforth because she’s definitely a comer.
Britten & Korngold
Vilde Frang, violin
Frankfurt Radio Symphony
James Gaffigan, conductor
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
01 I. Moderato nobile 9'23
02 II. Romanze: Andante 8'50
03 III. Finale: Allegro assai vivace 7'23
Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)
Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 15
04 I. Moderato con moto - Agitato - Tempo primo 10'04
05 II. Vivace - Animando - Largamente - Cadenza - 8'10
06 III. Passacaglia: Andante lento (un poco meno mosso) 14'09
After all, we could say, James Gaffigan, the conductor did them very well. Without him they had failed miserably.
Vilde Frang sang very well on Violin Concerto in D by Korngold and she has matured enough to play the difficult work by Britten. The latter is the best performance she has ever made, for she explosively played it. I like it better than played by Daniel Hope and Janine Jansen.