Beethoven & Stravinsky: Violin Concertos

Beethoven & Stravinsky: Violin Concertos

For Norwegian violinist sensation Vilde Frang, every album is a special event. Her inspired concerto couplings have so far included the Sibelius and Prokofiev 1, the Nielsen and Tchaikovsky, the Britten and Korngold, and now, perhaps even more startlingly, the Beethoven and Stravinsky. Yet for Frang, it is an obvious pairing, as both pieces thrive on inspired musical dialogue and share a propensity for chamber-scale reflexes and intimacy. “That is why the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Pekka Kuusisto were the perfect partners,” she tells Apple Music. “I very much wanted to create the impression of being part of a chamber ensemble, and a sense of everyone listening keenly to each other. And I couldn’t have been luckier than to have Pekka as the person through which to channel my ideas. The orchestra absolutely adore him—he is like their artistic best friend. “Together, they are like Beethoven’s vision of the perfect brotherhood—everyone is equal, anyone can make comments, and there is an exhilarating sense of collective freedom. They are a perfect example of what music-making should be. Everything in music is a two-way process. It’s all about giving and receiving, and working with these amazing musicians opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. There was a real sense of all the strands of my musical life coming together.” The Beethoven Violin Concerto especially feels as though it has undergone a fundamental transformation. The work is no longer about a lone voice pitted against orchestral might, but a celebration of shared musical ideals. “By working in this chamber manner,” Frang explains, “the music actually feels more expansive. It enhances its power and the way it continually breaks new ground. You become more keenly aware of just how revolutionary Beethoven’s thinking is.” Frang used to perform the traditional Fritz Kreisler solo cadenzas in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, but for the recording, she transcribed the composer’s own cadenzas, complete with timpani, which he wrote for his later piano version of the work. “We were lucky to have an extremely gifted young timpanist for the sessions,” Frang says, “who created such an impression that Pekka called him ‘maestro.’ Collaborating with him was a real partnership of equals and opened my eyes to the fantastic expressive potential of the timpani.” If the Beethoven Violin Concerto feels more keenly dramatic and musically volatile than usual, then the Stravinsky emerges as a dazzling cornucopia of fast-cutting textural interfaces. “There is no other concerto quite like it,” Frang agrees. “Stravinsky opens all four movements with the same chord [differently presented], as though raising the curtain on a theatrical scene. The opening movement is sheer spectacle—it’s hilarious! Like ‘The Shrovetide Fair’ in Petrushka, different characters parade past, with every instrument having a chance to shine, as though Stravinsky is playing with the orchestra’s sonorities. “‘Aria I’ [the second movement] is halfway between an intermezzo and a scherzo, and creates the impression of being at the ballet bar or studio. The Concerto’s emotional core, however, is ‘Aria II,’ which is almost like a Greek tragedy and is surprisingly painful. If, to an extent, in the other three movements Stravinsky wears a series of masks, here the mask comes off—this is emotion in the raw, without any sense of disguise or irony. It is so unexpected, and you can go very deep in that movement. It’s like the clown’s makeup being removed.” In a sense, the finale (“Capriccio”) brings the album full circle, as it is full of brilliant exchanges, both within the orchestral ranks and interacting with the solo violin. “It requires fast-cutting, split-second reactions,” says Frang. “In an instant, you might have to transform from the character of a gorilla to a butterfly. Everyone was at the very top of their game, exhilarating in the music’s playful virtuosity. Recording it was one of the most thrilling musical experiences of my life so far.”

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