Let's start with a brutal summary to tell you the essentials but scouting over the detail: two half-hour, three-movement Swedish violin concertos written comparatively recently in styles that differ but which have accessibility in common. You can contrast this disc with the more arduously astringent Hellstenius and Matre concertos on BIS - also Swedish.
Skog's work inclines to a sort of passionate minimalism while the Nilsson is unafraid to draw very candidly on roots that lead back to the violin concertos by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. There is much beauty in each work and Zilliacus, in presenting them, shows herself a tremendous player whose tone is never less than sweet and fine. The sound is clear yet subtle without glare or undue highlight. Different hall venues do not disturb these waters.
The long first movement of the Skog has a racingly driven pulse delivered by strings and woodwind. The solo violin courses over the top with a singing quality that meshes cogs with the pulse. There's some quietly ecstatic writing and the occasional brush with abrasive rawness. The atmosphere and mood is predominantly one of flying high in dreamy confidence. In the Sostenuto con delicatezza Zilliacus gives the impression of singing to herself: an English Lark meets minimalism. The finale returns to a sustained Nyman-style impulse. A folksy violin line meets woodwind and brass figures that curve and entwine. This music is said to have much in common with Skog's piano concerto and piano trio.
Internet searches show that Nilsson has not done too badly in the recording stakes (review and review). The present violin concerto was written within a year of two of his mother's death. The Introduzione: Largo - Moderato con spirito first movement is quiet and cool. The self-communing solo is heard over a discreet orchestral murmur. Things soon become more vivacious if not uninhibited. Minimalism is nowhere in sight … or sound. The writing remains melody-centred and casts back to the Sibelius Concerto at the end in its flighty, impulsive, spark-flying fury. The central Largo follows without pause and a Sibelian cool arches over the writing which in its caprice occasionally suggests Scheherazade. The finale - Allegro moderato - accelerates almost imperceptibly out of stasis with an almost Tchaikovskian whistleable melody. The closing paragraphs oscillate between gentle and virtuosic and the concerto ends with whip-lash confidence - almost impatience.
Zilliacus has been active as part of an eponymous trio established in 1999 and also as soloist with recordings of the Nielsen concerto and sonatas on DBCD161 and DBCD162. She is well worth hearing. This heroically pioneering, well documented and recorded disc will feed and excite her reputation and those of the two composers. Rob Barnett
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