There are some works which nature clearly intended to be coupled on CD for all eternity. Like Cav
in the opera house, Prokofiev’s two violin concertos have fallen into that category even in the days of LP. Of the 109 currently available recordings of the Second Concerto
listed on Archiv, I can only, at a very rough count, find five single CDs which couple it with works by other composers. Of those, two are in the historical category.
The coupling here with the ever-popular Bruch First Violin Concerto
is, so far as I can discover, unique. Given that most purchasers of the Prokofiev violin concertos will probably want both of the composer’s essays in that medium, the performances on this disc would therefore need to be something very special indeed to attract buyers other than aficionados
of the young soloist. This is all the more so when there would in any event appear to have been room on the CD for the Prokofiev First Concerto
Unfortunately the assured performance by the soloist suffers somewhat from a rather one-dimensional recorded balance, with Guro Kleven Hagen placed very far in front of the orchestra without much sense of the resonance of the hall. Her playing is technically stunning, but I cannot believe that she really produced the sheer volume of sound that this recording would suggest. There is rather too much sound of the attack of the bow on the string, almost as if the listener were sitting in the front row of the hall immediately below the soloist. The rather restricted nature of the sound becomes decidedly wearing after a while, and one longs for more sense of light and shade. Bjarte Engeset gets a lively response from the orchestra, set back in a more natural acoustic, but only at times — in the slow movement, for example — does one get the impression that the players are playing at a dynamic less than mezzo forte.
Apart from the fact that they are both in the key of G minor, Bruch’s concerto does not have much in common with the Prokofiev. Again one would have welcomed a more appropriate coupling with, for example, the Bruch Second Concerto
or Scottish Fantasy.
Engeset sets a very leisurely pace at the beginning, and the soloist’s response is suitably dreamy and rhapsodic. The speed soon picks up after the opening phrases and again the recorded sound is not ideally rich and romantic. The resinous bite of the bow attacking the string at track 4, 1.51, for example, is too closely observed to sound natural. On the other hand the orchestral violins are thrillingly virtuosic at 5.09 in the same track, and the performance avoids the sense of romantic languor which can so often affect this concerto. Even the slow movement is kept on the move. Then at 7.00 (track 5) we are given a beautiful pianissimo
from the soloist which produces a sense of rapture that is quite enchanting. The finale has all the barnstorming bravura that one could desire.
These are perfectly adequate performances; indeed something more than that in the case of the Bruch. However, they do not have the overwhelming impact that is really needed to overcome the drawbacks of the odd coupling and the rather meagre playing time. Malcolm MacDonald’s comprehensive booklet notes are valuable, and the disc comes packaged in a gatefold booklet.
One would look forward to hearing this soloist again, but one would hope that more careful consideration would be given to the repertory included on her next disc.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Masterwork index: Bruch