Bartok Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
There have been some distinguished recordings of Bartók’s Violin Concertos over recent years. Among the most impressive are those from Arabella Steinbacher (Pentatone) and James Ehnes (Chandos), while the Second Concerto has enjoyed fervent performances from Barnabas Kelemen (Hungaroton) and Patricia Kopatchinskaja (Naïve). Isabelle Faust’s credentials as Bartók interpreter are no less impeccable and her interpretations of these masterpieces are compelling from first bar to last.
The most striking feature of her performance of the First Concerto’s opening movement is its almost fragile intensity. Faust resists the kind of full-blown romantic ardour that might seem appropriate to music inspired by a protracted love affair. Instead she weaves her sinewy melodic line in a more introvert manner, working very much within the orchestral fabric. The effect is totally magical, particularly at the harps’ entry near the end just as the violin climbs to its most stratospheric register. Inevitably the ensuing and somewhat abrasive Allegro giocoso inhabits a rather different world. Yet Faust’s playing here is not only bold and energetic, but also teasing and seductive.
The Second Concerto, performed here with the composer’s rarely heard orchestral coda to the Finale, presents even more impulsive changes of mood, though these are held in check by Bartók’s subtly unified manipulation of thematic material. Once again Faust draws you into the ebb and flow of the musical narrative by employing the widest possible range of colours and dynamics, while Daniel Harding and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra are admirable partners responding incisively to every fluctuation of tempo and nuance and bringing out a wealth of inner detail in the accompaniment.