The Norwegian violinist talks to Sarah Kirkup about her third recording for EMI Classics
Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang’s third EMI Classics recording (out now) features the Tchaikovsky and Nielsen Violin Concertos. She talks to Gramophone deputy editor Sarah Kirkup.
Q: Why pair the Tchaikovsky with the Nielsen?
A: To me, they complement each other, rather like the Elgar and Dvořák Cello Concertos. Sixty years ago, the Elgar seemed quite exotic, and now everybody loves it. The Nielsen is the Danish version of the Elgar. People are still not used to his way of writing – he’s not easy to get along with straight away, and he has a very special, relaxed sense of structure (there is one but it’s not very concrete). Also, his music is not just strange but tricky to play. This sort of music requires 120 per cent effort, but it’s so rewarding when you dig into it. Everyone should play this work!
Q: Technically, how does the Nielsen compare to the Tchaikovsky?
A: For sure it’s very challenging – in fact, it’s rather more awkward than the Tchaikovsky. But what they both have in common is that the technical aspect is only a consideration because the composers’ musical ambitions are so high. The composers never just show technique for its own sake – there’s always a reason behind it.
Q: Which concerto do you prefer?
A: My relationship to both these composers is very different. The Tchaikovsky Concerto is just a part of my relationship with Tchaikovsky the composer. By the time I was three or four, I knew his music and was both frightened and fascinated by it. I grew up with his symphonies and piano concertos – Tchaikovsky created my childhood. So I believe in this composer. I love his operas, his instrumental works, his songs – everything. But the Nielsen – well, it’s the only piece by Nielsen that I know by heart. And it’s only during performances of it on stage that the answers come.
Q: Do you feel that the Nielsen is more a natural fit for you, being a Norwegian musician?
A: I think that’s a really dangerous thing to say. You don’t have to be Spanish to love flamenco (which I do!). And yet, there is something that’s in your blood when you’re brought up in a country. The sense of humour to be found in Nielsen’s musical language, for example – he had a very special sense of humour and he brings that into the Concerto. There’s an old Danish children’s song at the end of the first movement, which touches the hearts of every Scandinavian – it’s like a national secret.
Q: Why isn’t the Nielsen better known?
A: I believe people don’t play it because of the technical aspect and the structure. Nielsen must have been a decent violinist – he certainly knew how to use the instrument, and he had an idea on how to break the limits. The work needs to be played with lots of surplus to get the message through.
Q: You won the 2012 Credit Suisse Young Artist Award…
A: The great thing with this prize is the engagement with the Vienna Philharmonic and Bernard Haitink at the Lucerne Festival. Haitink is such a great maestro, and I know him from so many recordings. I’ve also witnessed him and the Vienna Phil many times. So I’m just so happy to be able to play the Sibelius Concerto with him.
Q: Will you be playing the Nielsen in concert any time soon?
A: I’m doing it in Cologne and I just did it in Japan, but many orchestras prefer the Tchaikovsky or the Bruch. It’s a pity because this Violin Concerto deserves to be played a lot more. It needs to be heard, and to be part of the concert repertoire.
Hear a movement from the Nielsen on Spotify below: