Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1; Walton Viola Concerto; Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
Isabelle van Keulen (violin, viola); NDR Radiophilharmonie/Andrew Manze, Keri-Lynn Wilson, Andrew Litton
Challenge Classics CC 72793 62:49 mins
Full marks for this well-conceived programme, which brings together two works closely related but rarely coupled – Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto and Walton’s Viola Concerto, the latter following Prokofiev’s innovative formula of making the central movement a lively scherzo, followed by a finale whose opening theme is ultimately combined to poignant effect with the concerto’s very first theme. The Vaughan Williams – dreamy like the Prokofiev yet quintessentially English – proves a perfect companion to these works.
Curiously, this album compiles recordings from three different sessions – albeit, all recorded at the Hanover NDR with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra – each with a different conductor. Andrew Manze is assigned the opening Prokofiev. Isabelle van Keulen plays this with a shiny, rather glassy (rather than glossy) tone – somewhat lacking the more velvety and warm qualities associated with the repertoire played by Paul Kochanski, for whom Prokofiev originally composed his concerto. Manze’s accompaniment is a touch diffident and precise rather than characterful. The Concerto still ‘comes across’, but may have better suited to Andrew Litton, who instead conducts the Vaughan Williams, which conversely could do with a little less of the American’s rhetorical and extrovert style (whereas Manze has already proven an idiomatic conductor of Vaughan Williams). No reservations are needed for the Walton, whose introverted yet deep running emotion well suits van Keulen’s way with the husky-toned viola she plays. Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson finds an ideal balance of restraint and (in the scherzo) extroversion, confirming it as one of the very greatest works in the 20th century concerto repertoire.