Janine Jansen performs Brahms’ and Bartók’s concertos led by Antonio Pappano

The music remains reserved, acutely sensitive, but now with an added dimension of almost painful tenderness. 

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bela Bartók,Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Janine Jansen
WORKS: Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Janine Jansen (violin); Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, LSO/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8412

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On the back of this disc is a picture of Janine Jansen and conductor Antonio Pappano engaged in what appears to be vigorous bout of arm-wrestling. That’s not a bad metaphor for some performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto. But this one makes a rather different impression. Pappano sets the scene well at the beginning: elegant long lines and richness of sound combined with fluidity of movement. But the violin’s normally stormy entry seems to grow out of what we’ve already heard rather than pit itself in opposition. As the violin writing calms down, Jansen’s performance seems to want to tell us that this is what the Brahms Violin Concerto is really about: not so much a symphony with violin as chamber music with orchestra. To Jansen’s credit, a lot of it works well. Brahms here is truly the German Romantic poet of woodland solitude. There’s much less of a sense of bravura. Up to the finale I was almost persuaded, but then the doubts, previously sidelined, strode centre stage. Surely this movement should feature at least a guest appearance from then big, bold, even flashy Brahms?

The Bartók however is a revelation. Somehow Jansen manages to coax this music out of its accustomed reticence, but without any sense of forcing it to speak. The music remains reserved, acutely sensitive, but now with an added dimension of almost painful tenderness. At last, this concerto really does sing of unrequited love, well aided by the warm and beautifully balanced recording.

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Stephen Johnson