Norman Stinchcombe reviews new violin CDs


UNCENSORED: Nigel Kennedy & Others ★

Whatever happened to Nigel Kennedy? From child prodigy speaking posh home counties English to foul-mouthed perpetually adolescent 63-year-old using a bizarre street-patois of his own devising. A gifted fiddler who once gave up performing "dead men's music" and then (without irony) played Jimi Hendrix, who was dead before Britten and Shostakovich. Perhaps his autobiography Uncensored will tell us. Apart from a fine recording of Bruch's first concerto, this catchpenny three CD set "tie-in" gives us bleeding chunks. There are two of Vivaldi's four seasons; three movements from two Bach concertos; one movement from Brahms and Karlowicz; two each from Elgar and Beethoven. The third CD has bits of Ellington and Gershwin and jams and improvisations from Kennedy's band. A nice bottle of Beaujolais, innit? gives a clue to what's on offer – it probably sounds better after a couple of bottles. It's a long way from that sublime first Elgar recording.

Norman Stinchcombe

MOZART: Steinbacher / Festival Strings Lucerne / Dodds ★★★

Arabella Steinbacher's outstanding disc of Mozart's Violin Concertos Nos 3-5 was released in 2014 and seven years later she's rounded off the project with Nos 1 and 2. These two concertos have Mozart finding his feet in the medium and neither reaches the heights of lyricism, as in the adagio of No.3, or the rhythmic verve and energy of the 'Turkish' finale of No.5 but both are very pleasing in Steinbacher's hands. She artfully manages a balance of elegant classicism with a dash of romantic ardour from her newly acquired 1718 Stradivarius. The Lucerne players under Daniel Dodds again provide excellent idiomatic support. Steinbacher uses stylistically apt cadenzas by Wolfgang Schneiderhan and includes Mozart's charming Adagio in E Major and vivacious Rondos in C Major and B-flat Major. But why have Pentatone not recorded it in high resolution SACD like the previous disc? A serious omission for an audiophile label.

Norman Stinchcombe

MOZART: NDR Radiophilharmonie / Manze ★★★★

Years ago I saw Andrew Manze, a fine baroque fiddler who had recently taken up the baton, conducting the CBSO in a Brahms symphony. It was a seat-of-the-pants performance, lacking discipline with the players just about finishing together. Manze is now vastly more experienced which shows in these exciting, precise and invigorating performances of Mozart's symphonies No.38 'Prague' and No.39. The Hamburg-based radio orchestra use modern instruments of course but like the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Sir Charles Mackerras – whose performances Manze's closely resemble – adopt 'period' style. Tempi are swift, but never hectic, and Manze gives these masterpieces the weight they require aided by observing vital repeats – the opening of No.38 lasts 18.29 for example. Mozart's combination of imposing grandeur, operatic ardour and sly wit are all captured by Manze and his players with outstanding work by the orchestra's wind section. Sadly Pentatone (again) failed to record it in SACD.

Norman Stinchcombe

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