MENDELSSOHN; BRITTEN Violin Concertos (Bohren)
Knowing Sebastian Bohren’s playing from his gripping recording of Hartmann’s Concerto funebre (6/17) and as leader of the superb Stradivari Quartet, I was surprised he sounds so emotionally disconnected on this new disc. The Swiss violinist’s silvery, tensile tone is well suited to the Mendelssohn Concerto but I find his phrasing prosaic throughout. Certainly there’s little sense of molto appassionato in the first movement, as the composer demands. Bohren’s leisurely tempo is no excuse; Perlman’s similarly paced account with Previn (EMI, 1/74) burns with an inner fire. The Andante is plainspoken to a fault; and while he plays tenderly in the transition to the finale, the finale itself lacks buoyancy and sparkle.
Bohren’s Britten is even more disappointing, I’m sorry to say. It begins well, with Litton and the RLPO swooning over the first sighing phrases, yet when Bohren enters, he seems to be holding back in both tempo and feeling. The extended, obsessively ruminative passage at 6'17" in the first movement, for example, is so rhythmically stodgy it sounds becalmed. There are some occasional flashes of fireworks in the Scherzo but it’s not nearly terrifying enough. And while Litton invests the finale’s passacaglia theme with a lyrical intensity that brought the threnody near the end of Mahler’s Sixth to mind, Bohren answers matter-of-factly. Overall, I’ve the sense that Bohren wants to knit himself into the symphonic fabric – unlike, say, Vilde Frang, who seems to want to tear herself away. Indeed, Frang demonstrates how emotionally wrenching this score can be on her no-holds-barred Gramophone Award-winning recording (Warner Classics, 2/16). Bohren’s style is not nearly as physical, it’s true, but a more traditional interpretation can also have the power to haunt. Vengerov, for example, connects the work to its Romantic antecedents and plays his heart out doing it (EMI, 7/03). At least Bohren’s poignantly aspirational tone (from 10'18") makes something memorable of the final pages.
Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade mélancolique might have fit more happily between the Mendelssohn and Britten than as an encore but here again Bohren’s phrasing is lacking in expressive shape and detail.