Let me start a bit off-topic: Why do I write about Sibelius right now?
If you’ve watched this blog for a bit, or if you’ve bothered to scroll down my main page, you’ll see that my blog topic selection look rather arbitrary and randomly selected and doesn’t follow a clear pattern. And to be fair, this is pretty much exactly how I chose my topics, by inspiration. It is very similar to how i decide to which album to listen next, whatever inspires me. The only connecting factor is that I only write about music or related topics that I really care about.
Diskothek im 2 / Disques en lice
So back to the question: Why Sibelius right now? The simple answer is: I just listened to a great podcast about it. Or actually 2. Let me clarify: My adopted country, Switzerland, has rather average public television, but two great classical music radio stations, one German (SRF2) one French (Espace 2) speaking. Both get to produce their own proprietary content, including a show that is based on the principle of inviting a couple of experts, and listening to a select number of recordings of a certain classical work, and have the expert discuss them blindly, and chose a “winner”. This show is called “Diskothek im 2” for the German, and “Disques en lice” for the French version.
Both recently decided to review Sibelius violin concerto, with a slightly different selection of versions. There was one overlap however, the winner, which is the album I’ll be talking about in a minute. And while I don’t always agree with the experts (in the end, it is all also a question of taste), listening blindly is really a good way of seeing if you REALLY like a version or you’re just preferring it because of the great name of the artist.
Sibelius’ violin concerto
Again, I don’t want to be Wikipedia, if you want to find more about the violin concerto, go here or here. Let me just say that the violin concerto is the only piece from Sibelius i really love. I still need to “get used” to the symphonies and symphonic poems he wrote. I fell in love with the violin concerto early on as it was coupled with the Beethoven violin concert on this low-price Sony release from the 1990s. I was lucky, because it included the Sibelius in a version by the great David Oistrakh which is recommended in the second link above, so by chance I ended up having a very good version.
So feel free to check this version out, it is still very much recommended.
However, today I want to talk about the recording that won both Disques en Lice and Diskothek im 2: the 2009 recording with Vilde Frang
This was Frang‘s first major commercial record at the age of 22. And what a performance it is. It has both the cold/ghostly nordic impressions of what I imagine Finland must look like (I’ve never been) but also at the right moments has all the fire and energy this late romantic concerto needs. She’s from Norway by the way, so geographically not very far from Finland. No idea if this helps or if this is just a cliché. The conductor, that I wasn’t otherwise familiar with, Thomas Søndergård, is as you can see from the Ø’s and å’s in the name also from Scandinavia, Denmark in this case. Only the orchestra being from the nice town of Cologne, doesn’t qualify as Scandinavian at all.
A side note on German radio orchestras (recognizable by the WDR/NDR/HR or whatever abbreviation, the R meaning radio) are usually quite good, albeit not at the level of a Berlin Philharmonic. However, some of them can be really great, like this one. The Orchestra and Søndergård are doing a great job here as well, and soloist and orchestra are really well-integrated.
This being an “album”, a concept which was forced on us by the LP, and later CD, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for classical music, we not only get the Sibelius, which would have been perfectly fine by me, but you also get a violin concerto by Prokofiev, and some minor “Humoresques” by Sibelius. While I like some of Prokofievs piano music and his “classical” symphony, I cannot find a lot of interest in his violin concerto (no judgment on quality here, just personal preference), and the Humoresques are nice fillers.
Overall rating: 5 stars (applies to the Sibelius concerto, the rest of the album I cannot be bothered with)
A nice alternative recording which I also really like, with another young rising star on the violin, is the version with Lisa Batiashvili (We are living in great times with so many fantastic violin players around). On this recording, you even get a Finnish orchestra with it.
14 thoughts on “Vilde Frang’s Outstanding Version of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto”
I love the recording with Lisa Batiashvili! I actually first bought it for the Lindberg concerto, but fell in love with her Sibelius as well.
As for Frang’s version, I think I may need to get that as well.
I now have had 6 versions among this Vilde Frang. I love it but the Tasmin Little version with Vernon Handley is my first choice. That one is also recorded better. The Vilde Frang is scharp sounding. The Vilde is more virtuosity and less in sync with Sibelius idiom. But beautiful in its own. Also the Hillary Hahn version is very beautiful which I would not want to mis. The Jascha Heifetz celebrated version I do not like so much and the Oistrakh even less.
You mention to only like this violin concerto of Sibelius which I feel is the most beautiful violinconcerto of all. The Swan of Tuonella is also strikingly beautiful and especially in the version of a recent BIS SACD surround recording of Vanska and a Norwegian Orchestra. It is also the most beautiful recording of all mentioned in this posting of mine.
Thanks for flagging Tasmin Little’s version to me, I must admit I wasn’t aware of it. I agree on Hahn by the way. I just always have to skip the Schoenberg on the same album as I just don’t get this music.
And let me also give Tuonella a try. Vänskä and BIS are usual a great combination.
My 2 favourites: Ferras’ classic Karajan recording for his beautiful tone and emotional investment ; and the unique Kavakos recording of the “original” version with Vanska which is superlative and viscerally terrifying – both in terms of the score and the instrument mastery. A white knuckle ride!
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Thanks Andrew for you comments. I fully agree that Kavakos is great. I’ve never heard the Ferras/Karajan recording, will check it out!
I listened to Frang’s recording tonight on NDR Kultur and was not amused. My favourite is Ginette Neveu. Hope you checked it! https://youtu.be/gWV6gkeUUyo
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Thanks for your feedback. I didn’t know Neveu‘s recording, though I really like her Brahms. As to Frang, it all boils down to individual taste after all.