BRUCH; STENHAMMAR Violin Concertos (Svarfvar)
Christian Svarfvar muses poetically over the opening solo of the Bruch Concerto. He’s hardly alone in disregarding the composer’s instruction to begin at a solid forte – many violinists take the same liberty – and his dreamy approach is mesmeric, in any case. His tone gleams, and the way he tugs yearningly on the leading tones draws one in. The trouble is that he never quite shakes off the feeling of poetic languor. It’s possible to make this movement work at a broad tempo, as Daniel Hope demonstrates (DG, 5/11). But where Hope is elastic in his phrasing, Svarfvar is metrically rigid, and the heavy tread quickly becomes wearying.
The Adagio, also taken at a relatively slow tempo, fares better. Svarfvar’s playing radiates tenderness and the surprise shift in tonality at 4'45" is beautifully managed by Joana Carneiro and the LPO. Alas, the Allegro energico finale is seriously lacking in verve. Bruch marks it two beats to the bar but here it’s played in four, so instead of snap and swing, one feels every beat – even the stringendo passages are listless.
I’m guessing that Svarfvar favours leisurely tempos, as the pair of Stenhammar works (recorded in different sessions) are similarly sedate. Thankfully, he’s more flexible in his phrasing here – pianist Henrik Måwe’s pellucid, supple playing helps enormously – although in the Sonata the musicians’ emphasis on pastoral lyricism comes largely at the expense of ardour. The Skride sisters find a happier balance (Orfeo, 10/16). Svarfvar’s album concludes on a high note, at least, with charmingly intimate readings of the two Sentimental Romances. His hushed tone in the opening of the first suggests a lullaby – a lovely touch – and the second sighs and sobs with charming restraint.