STRAVINSKY; MARTIN Violin Concertos
Quite an ear-opener. The Stravinsky Violin Concerto is little short of a revelation, lean and keen, with the kind of inner clarity that you never get with this degree of immediacy from an average seat in the concert hall. The consequence of this is a heightening of the work’s harmonic daring and wit. Baiba Skride has the measure of its hybrid nature, striking an ideal balance between its Classical/Baroque cut and thrust and its Romantic inclinations. ‘Aria II’ is very beautiful indeed, its melodic embellishments tripping off the bow with harmonic support in the orchestral strings that is more sensitively heard and more ‘aware’ than I have experienced in any recording of the piece. But then it’s the interplay of voices that consistently springs surprises. All credit to Thierry Fischer, producer Andrew Keener and, of course, the big-personality wind soloists of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Credit, too, for whoever came up with the idea of coupling the little-heard Frank Martin Concerto. With that we are removed to another world, mysterious and fantastical, which Martin tells us is inspired by Prospero’s island from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ariel rules here at Prospero’s bidding and Skride is an ethereal presence throughout, weaving her spells through the subtlest Ravelian textures and achieving one moment of breathtaking stasis at the close of the slow movement where Prospero’s – or should that be Martin’s – magic achieves a sombre grandeur.
As for Honegger’s two orchestral showpieces: Pacific 231 builds a fine head of steam, its orchestral mechanism, its squealing pistons and the like vividly revealed (how often this piece sounds more thickly scored than it is). Its majestic horn-led arrival is bang on schedule. Rugby is the mechanistic equivalent in male muscle and sinew, full of testosterone and resolve and, in Fischer’s hands, a kind of awkward grace. The same might be said of Stravinsky’s Barnum and Bailey elephants, whose idea of a polka has never chimed with mine.