Brahms Violin Concerto, etc. Dvořák Violin Concerto; Czech Suite; Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor; Symphony No. 3, etc; Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 1, etc.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Joseph Swensen (violin)
Linn CKR 614 261:16 mins (4 discs)
So many remarkable violinists have filed past over recent years that it’s easy to forget (if you ever knew) that Joseph Swensen is one of the best. He was also an engaging principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for nine years. So this set is more than a selection of great violin concertos; all four are matched with music by the composer in question, offering an ideal introduction to each. There’s an impressive level of excellence throughout, though Swensen is adaptable to moods between and within concertos – Prokofiev’s in his wintry Second Concerto, for instance, between a lyricism which Swensen always articulates with nuance and a spikier mode. I love his natural way with slow movements, especially Mendelssohn’s and Brahms’s – faster speeds than usual, no excess sentiment but plenty of love. The tone is always sweet, the intonation what players call ‘speaking’, which means a constant alertness that is especially refreshing in the familiar.
Among the orchestral companions there’s a winsome Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony, with a wonderful whispering for the opening movement’s allegro exposition and those marvellous SCO clarinets, which also gild the earwormy ‘Sousedska’ of Dvořák’s Czech Suite (the strings get to shine in soulfulness in the equally rarely heard Nocturne which follows). Swensen’s talents as an arranger are impressively showcased in the perfect orchestration of the piano part in Prokofiev’s Five Melodies. Linn’s always excellent work with the SCO gilds the lily with sound that’s true to this splendid ensemble.