HALVORSEN; NIELSEN Violin Concertos
So is Johan Halvorsen’s 1909 Violin Concerto – presumed destroyed until it was found in 2015 – a rediscovered masterpiece? Perhaps not. But it’s a whole lot more than characterless late-Romantic note-spinning, with some fascinating and arresting structural features (it opens with the same ‘orchestral salvo/soloist cadenza’ gesture as Bruch’s First Concerto before it and Nielsen’s after it) and at times a highly individual gait. The way the accompaniment stalks the leading device in the second movement could even foreshadow Prokofiev, while the finale’s swing tells you it’s in three when it’s actually in four. Henning Kraggerud’s woody but relatively contained sound fits the piece beautifully until, as in that finale, you want the soloist to take proceedings by the scruff of the neck. Kraggerud never really does and the concerto’s final pages can feel a little unsure of themselves as a result.
And, as we’ve heard before, Nielsen’s Concerto needs something rather more than Kraggerud’s unfailing and rather contained eloquence: either Vilde Frang’s elfin revisionism (EMI, 9/12) or Cecilia Zilliacus’s uncompromising fortitude. Where Zilliacus ramps up the tension by digging into repeated notes and confronting the orchestra head-on, Kraggerud sometimes appears deliberately unemphatic and can struggle with tuning where Zilliacus, for all her abandon, doesn’t. There is too little direct engagement and reaction between soloist and orchestra, and it’s also telling that Kraggerud’s go-to sound – vibrato speed, weight of bow on string – is remarkably similar in Svendsen’s Romance. That piece is gorgeously and sensitively played, but next to it Nielsen’s Concerto should be a whole different aesthetic ball game.