Janine Jansen's staggering Beethoven and Britten

James JollyMon 14th December 2009
Janine Jansen plays Beethoven and Britten (Decca)Janine Jansen plays Beethoven and Britten (Decca)

Gramophone was the first magazine to explore classical music on the web, and we still remain one of the few to provide a monthly look at what’s happening in cyber-world for the classical music fan. Now, we’re adding a blog, and in it I intend to continue to surf the web for great music and great music-making, exploring some of the special offers and use my downloads to share some discoveries of striking new – and, probably, not-so-new – recordings (historic performances provide some of the richest pickings in the digital arena).

Not long in the shops (and also uploaded to the iTunes store) is a new disc from Janine Jansen (she of the spectacular cyber success of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons a few years ago), coupling the Beethoven and Britten violin concertos. Gramophone’s review is in the January issue (and I’m relieved to see that I agree entirely with what Duncan Druce says), but I can’t resist giving it a mention because not only is the coupling thought-provoking and different (do we have Hilary Hahn to thank for leading the way with unexpected, but invariably rewarding, pairings on disc?), but the sound is quite staggering. Paavo Järvi conducts, and has really chosen horses for courses – his terrific Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in the Beethoven (crisp, incisive and very 21st century) and the LSO in the Britten (astounding playing by an ensemble on peak form in music that just comes naturally to them). But the recording is what makes you sit and really listen – it’s as if the good old-fashioned Decca Sound had never gone away!

Though Britten’s music is pretty well “core” repertoire these days, or at least his operas and vocal music, the orchestral music, and particularly the concertante works, seem to lag behind in exposure. I hope that Jansen’s Violin Concerto and Steven Osborne’s thrilling and justly Award-winning Hyperion recording of the Piano Concerto put these pieces back on the musical map. Jansen makes the Violin Concerto sound modern and spiky, never for a moment smoothing the edges as some fiddlers do – and that jaw-droppingly original section in the central movement that sounds like so many insects cheeping and chirping is not only magnificently played by the LSO, but really benefits from the great sound. There are so many extraordinary and amazingly unusual sounds in this piece that it will continue to offer up novelties with every hearing. Do check it out.

James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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