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Sibelius: Violin Concerto, etc

Fenella Humphreys (violin); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/George Vass (Resonus)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Two Humoreskes, Op. 87; Four Humoreskes, Op. 89; Nors S Josephson: Celestial Voyage
Fenella Humphreys (violin); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/George Vass
Resonus RES 10277   63:16 mins

For all the powerhouse virtuosity of its solo part, Sibelius’s Violin Concerto also has a brooding streak that isn’t at all typical of the genre, and it takes an unusually fine artist to be able to bridge the two extremes. Fenella Humphreys’s playing is a genuine revelation in the way it brings out the music’s dark and introspective qualities, with no shortage of technical panache meanwhile. That said, her slow-ish choice of tempo for the finale, with its sometimes near-unplayable difficulties, allows her to be exceptionally accurate, but at the expense of the firework-display effect which is really all that the movement is about.

Everywhere else, Humphreys offers searching and beautifully focused lyrical expression, laser-like accuracy of tuning (in the double-stopped passages remarkably so), plus the wonderful tawny-brown sonority of her choice of Guarneri violin with its gorgeous lower register. Every shade of the six Humoresques’ brand of whimsical invention, too, is deftly captured, with quality orchestral playing to match. The idiom of Nors Josephson’s Celestial Voyage seems to be timewarped in the 19th-century era of Max Bruch, but the music is immaculately written nonetheless, with the insistent use of low trombones indicating an original ear for orchestral scoring.

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Malcolm Hayes