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Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 [42:45]
Alban BERG (1885–1935)
Violin Concerto [28:32]
Antonķn DVOŘĮK (1841–1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 [32:49]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47 [33:30]
Sigrśn Ešvaldsdóttir (violin)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Petri Sakari (Brahms), Rumon Gamba (Berg), Uriel Segal (Dvořįk), & Bernharšur Wilkinson (Sibelius)
rec. Hįskólabķó, Reykjavķk, 1991 (Brahms), 1999 (Dvořįk), 2008 (Berg), 2009 (Sibelius)
SMEKKLEYSA ISO3 [71:17 + 66:16]

This must be the first release of the violinist Sigrśn Ešvaldsdóttir – also one of the current concertmasters of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO) – as soloist since the 2000 album of works by the Icelandic composer Leifur Žörarinsson. That disc involved the ISO conducted by Petri Sakari, and it is the same syndicate that opens the current recording, a 1999 live documentation of Brahms’ violin concerto. The orchestra is focused and clear, rarely indulging in the troughs and peaks of tuttis nor swarming in lyricism. Sakari’s ability to bring out details whilst rarely loosening tension is textbook – a claim especially pertinent to the stunning repose of the Allegro non troppo. Matching is the stark beauty of Ešvaldsdóttir’s firm-vibrato playing. Little giocoso in the Allegro giocoso there may be, the performance would have drawn smiles, as is evinced by the lively applause from the audiences.

More than 50 years separate the violin concertos of Brahms and Berg. The seemingly incorrigible bellicosity of the twelve-tone idiom in Berg’s concerto notwithstanding, the traditional sonata form preserved in the work, as well as Brahms’ advocacy of contrapuntal and motivic writing bring the two pieces closer than what one may think. In similar fashion, despite the passage of 17 years since the recording of the Brahms concerto, the concentrated tone of Ešvaldsdóttir and the ISO – this time conducted by Ruman Gamba – is retained in the live Berg concerto. If the news of the death of the 18-year old daughter of Alma Mahler was the direct inspiration for the work’s birth, the expansive and underplayed reading is one that heeds the mournful occasion.

The angular strength of Ešvaldsdóttir and the ISO conducted by Uriel Segal in tending the sunny pulse of the 1999 Dvořįk concerto questions whether unhindered lyricism is the only way to explore the Bohemian ardour. Here, never missing is a poise of unhurried robustness. Ešvaldsdóttir and Bernharšur Wilkinson’s reading of Sibelius’ dark-hued concerto has an intensity yet of a covert kind. The attenuated and echoing tuttis arouse mystery in the dark backdrops of silence, yet it is also a sense of gauntness deriving from that lean fluidity of Ešvaldsdóttir’s vision that exposes the skeletal bareness of the piece. Episodes especially in the Finale can only be described as strange and in effect menacing – of these are the muted brass at 2’10’’ and the hushed orchestral backdrop at 5’05’’. A reading of a tragic sort, self-aware as a description of this 2009 studio performance may lighten up the corner of the experience that ought to be left alone. While the bass of the soloist is somewhat weak, this is of little concern given the musical narrative achieved.

There is little doubt regarding the unsung artistry of Ešvaldsdóttir and the ISO. The approach shines a Nordic light of austere clarity only to a familiar repertoire. A highly commendable pair of discs, not least due to the daring Sibelius concerto.

Young-Jin Hur (@yjhur1885)



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