SIbelius Violin Concerto CD review



Fenella Humphreys, BBC National Orchestra of Wales/George Vass (Resonus RES10277)

For all its acknowledged stature, the Sibelius Violin Concerto is an elusive work, not always convincing in performance, with soloists overawed by its technical difficulties, conductors bogged down in the mud of Finnish forests. Not so here, in this vibrant recording from Fenella Humphreys, joined by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by George Vass.

Humphreys has been a much-loved performer at Vass' Presteigne Festival for many years, and the trust and empathy between them are in abundance here in an account which takes our perceptions out of Scandinavia and out into the rest of Europe.

Sibelius loved Italy, and Vass and his orchestra bring a sumptuous Mediterranean sound at times (think Walton Cello Concerto) to complement the Nordic chill elsewhere. And Humphreys is almost operatically vocal in the resourcefulness of her fabulous Guarneri instrument, poignant and pure at the top, throbbingly throaty in the lower reaches.

Her virtuosity is ever-present but understated in the work's many cadenzas, salient notes deftly picked out, multiple-stopping sounding as though the entire string section is assisting. The close miking does, however, often convey all the pattering of her left hand on the finger-board.

The six Sibelius Humoresques are given with a charm which belies their fearsome technical demands for the soloist, and well done Vass for making the opening of the Third sound like the self-interested pawing of a cat!

An intriguing filler comes with Celestial Voyage by the American composer Nors S. Josephson. This absolutely keeps us in a pastiched Sibelian soundworld , with the orchestra sonorous and the violin taking flight, and full marks to him for having the courage to write tonal music which grips the listener rather than the geeks in ivory towers.

One downside: the insert-notes are really heavy going.

Christopher Morley

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