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Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 1; Enescu: Octet for Strings in C

Vilde Frang; with Erik Schumann, Gabriel Le Magadure, Rosanne Philippens et al; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Mikko Franck (Warner Classics)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Bartók Violin Concerto No. 1; Enescu Octet for Strings in C
Vilde Frang (violin); with Erik Schumann, Gabriel Le Magadure, Rosanne Philippens (violin), Lawrence Power, Lily Francis (viola), Nicholas Altstaedt, Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Mikko Franck
Warner Classics 9029566255   58:05 mins

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It was Yehudi Menuhin, no stranger to great company, who declared Enescu and Bartók the two greatest musicians he ever met. The two are a surprisingly infrequent pairing on disc, despite the naturalness of putting them together – as proved by Vilde Frang in superlative performances. They had much else in common, beginning with the fact that they were both born in 1881 at the eastern and western extremities of present-day Romania. Both the works featured here count as early pieces in their respective outputs, treading cosmopolitan rather than overtly folksong-influenced paths.

The Octet is a genre that has attracted prodigies, and Mendelssohn’s famous work supplies the closest point of comparison. Enescu wrote his as a teenager, yet it remained one of his undisputed masterpieces, tautly constructed with many of its ideas stemming from the surging opening motif. Alongside Frang, the best-known players on this recording are Lawrence Power and Nicolas Altstaedt, but all eight perform with subtle flexibility and as equals in capturing the mystery and brilliance of this music. Far more frequently recorded, Bartók’s First Violin Concerto was once nearly lost to the world. Published a decade after the composer’s death, it was inspired by his violinist-muse Stefi Geyer – who broke off her relationship with Bartók but remained custodian of the unpublished manuscript for the rest of her life. Frang rises to its passionate lyricism and dazzles in partnership with Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

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John Allison