Bruch & Nielsen Violin Concertos
In a world that’s richly stocked with marketable though often uninteresting young violinists, Nikolaj Znaider – who is still in his mid-twenties – breezes in as a genuinely free spirit. What’s particularly pleasing about this unique coupling is that both featured interpretations extend our experience of the chosen repertoire. (Znaider was signed to RCA last year but the contract was a victim of that company’s cut backs in classical music and not a note was recorded.)
Znaider was born in Denmark in 1975 to Polish-Israeli parents, and inspired Yehudi Menuhin no less to speak in terms of ‘the successor to Ysaye’. A little fanciful perhaps, and yet even the briefest sampling of the present disc confirms a solid technique (excellent bowing in particular), true intonation and a warm, finely modulated tone. The approach to both concertos is patient and thoughtful, with clean articulation – especially beneficial at the thorny start of Nielsen’s Concerto – and an ability to sustain long-breathed musical lines. If pressed for time, go to Nielsen’s centre-placed first-movement cadenza (track 2, from 6'09'').
Both performances are broader than the norm. One of my favourite digital recordings of the Nielsen features Dong-Suk Kang, and comparison of the timing between the two, shows Znaider stretching the dialogue by an extra five minutes or so. Composure is a prominent attribute, especially in the opening cadenza and the serene principal theme of the Largo. Znaider’s soft playing is remarkable, and he gives Nielsen’s brief Poco adagio one of the loveliest performances I’ve heard in recent years.
Again, the Bruch eschews schmaltz for restrained though telling expressiveness and purity of tone. The central Adagio stretches to a generous 9'27'', singing quietly at the central reprise of the second theme (at around 4'03''), with sensitive support from Lawrence Foster and the London Philharmonic. The Concerto sounds much the better for it, inward and ruminative rather than emotionally over-heated. If I have any reservation at all – a reservation that’s conditional on mood – it’s that the Allegro finale is less energico than it might have been. But it is at least consistent with the rest of the reading, and the emergent personality makes one impatient for future encounters.
EMI’s 1999 Watford Coliseum recording has the soloist very much to the fore but without sacrificing orchestral detail. The prominence is certainly well earned: indeed, I haven’t heard a more enjoyable or auspicious debut record for quite some time. Do give it a try.'