BRITTEN; HINDEMITH Violin Concertos
If the most common coupling for Britten’s Violin Concerto is more Britten – most obviously the Piano Concerto, as for Mark Lubotsky with the composer – it has been paired with a bewildering array of works by others: Beethoven, Ben‑Haim, Berg, Milhaud, Stravinsky and Walton among others. I do not recall a pairing of it with Hindemith’s, which is odd, since both were completed in 1939.
Arabella Steinbacher’s sweet, opulent tone is prominent throughout these carefully manicured accounts, and her partnership with Jurowski seems made in heaven. They enter a crowded field for the Britten: Presto Classical’s website lists 37 rivals. Pentatone’s sumptuous, beautiful sound is a plus compared to Lubotsky (Decca, 8/71) and Vengerov (Warner, 7/03), while Jurowski’s pacing – noticeably slower than usual in the opening paragraph – and handling of the orchestral detail is well judged. If Steinbacher lacks Vengerov’s electric virtuosity, I warmed to her account more than to his undeniably fascinating one. However, she cannot quite match Mordkovitch’s more searching interpretation (coupled with Veale’s wonderful concerto – Chandos, 9/01) nor Marwood’s highly recommendable all‑Britten competitor (Hyperion, 3/12).
Much will depend on couplings, and the Hindemith makes this unique. Again, the composer’s account (with David Oistrakh – Decca, 2/63) is a leading contender, although Frank Peter Zimmermann’s, coupled with four sonatas (BIS, 9/13), remains my top recommendation. Steinbacher has the measure of the work and her sense of personal connection is manifest throughout; her father knew Hindemith and worked with him on a staging of Die Harmonie der Welt. Steinbacher’s rapport with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is also more in tune (in all senses) than Midori’s was in Frankfurt (Ondine, 11/13). All here audibly relish Hindemith’s love of orchestral sonorities. If not the first choice for either work, then, Steinbacher’s is an excellent alternative.