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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, op. 47 [33:07]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra [21:16]
4 Fantasies on Chinese Folk Tunes: No. 3, Drama. Beijing Opera [8:28]
Zhi-Jong Wang (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
rec. 2017, Abbey Road Studios, London
ACCENTUS ACC30430 [62:57]

The Chinese violinist Zhi-Jong Wang made her debut at the age of 14 under Yehudi Menuhin and later won First Prize in the 1998 Yehudi Menuhin International Competition. In the same year she also won the First Prize of the China National Violin Competition, where she was the youngest first prize winner ever. In the following years Zhi-Jong Wang has distinguished herself receiving prizes in the Sibelius Violin Competition, Lipizer Violin Competition and the Tchaikovsky Competition. She is currently Associate Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She is obviously a violinist of some stature. The CD booklet notes, based on an interview with the soloist, are a joy to read. She seems to be a very level headed young lady without a hint of affectation. She views the Sibelius’s Violin Concerto as being dark and introverted, while she sees the Stravinsky as exciting, laced with irony and stylistically like a concerto grosso.

In the Sibelius the soloist is placed well forward but her technique stands up to the challenge remarkably well. Her view of the first movement is warm and lyrical and the cadenza is assured and musical, rather than merely being a flashy vehicle for showy virtuosity. The playing is thoughtful and secure but maybe lacking in the excitement and tension to be heard in some of the great recordings of the work. The slow movement is beautifully done. There’s romantic warmth to the solo line and Wang avoids any hint of the Zigeuner-like throb and heavy vibrato that ruins many an interpretation. The finale is technically very good but there’s a hint of caution that prevents the music from taking flight. It’s all very comfortable but the feeling of danger is missing. Her view of the concerto, dark and introverted, is certainly realised in her recording but the lack of adrenalin and extrovert excitement won’t appeal to everybody.

The Stravinsky is somewhat superior to the Sibelius. Wang integrates herself into the orchestra and plays with more obvious verve and abandon. The opening Toccata and final Capriccio are both delivered with virtuosity and panache. The soloist is clearly enjoying herself in this music far more than she appeared to be doing in the Sibelius. The music making is less studio-bound and far more communicative. The two central arias give the soloist an opportunity to show the lyrical gift she clearly displayed in the slow movement of the Sibelius. This is a fine version of the concerto. The final work on the disc is a virtuoso showpiece for solo violin composed by Lu Pei. This is an interesting piece with a soaring, lyrical quality. It is expertly and affectionately played.

The orchestral playing by the Philharmonia and the Abbey Road recording are of the highest order. Thomas Sanderling offers excellent support to his soloist. The solo playing itself is highly polished and technically expert. For those who can accept an interpretation of the Sibelius that focuses on its dark and introverted qualities this disc can be recommended. Those who prefer a daredevil virtuoso approach to their Sibelius should look elsewhere.

John Whitmore

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