Bartok: Violin Concerto No. 2; Contrasts; Sonata for solo violin; Violin Sonata No. 1

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WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 2; Contrasts; Sonata for solo violin; Violin Sonata No. 1
PERFORMER: Laurent Korcia (violin), Michel Portal (clarinet), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); CBSO/Sakari Oramo
Of all the great 20th-century violin concertos, Bartók’s Second must be regarded as one of the most formidable. Its soloist requires a supreme technique and an acute awareness of its complex musical structure. Much is revealed about the general characteristics of an interpretation from the opening passage in the first movement. Some violinists, such as György Pauk (Naxos) or Gil Shaham in his much under-estimated recording with Boulez (DG), adopt an understated, reflective tone, perhaps responding more readily to the lyrical qualities of the music. Not so Laurent Korcia whose approach is unashamedly high-voltage and rhapsodic. With Sakari Oramo and the CBSO providing urgent and incisive accompaniment, Korcia mesmerises the listener with a dramatic account that offers little relief, even in the mysteriously subdued 12-note theme that forms one of the movement’s contrasting thematic ideas. The overall impact may be almost too full-frontal. Nonetheless, Korcia’s charismatic phrasing and rhythmic fluidity, captured in warmly ambient sound, makes for compelling listening. Indeed, it’s one of the strongest versions on the market.


The rest of Korcia’s Bartók programme has considerable virtues. The almost improvisatory conception of Contrasts is extremely persuasive, with Michel Portal’s clarinet vibrato emulating the jazzy tone of the work’s original performer Benny Goodman. The two sonatas are also delivered with powerful intensity, though Korcia in the First Violin Sonata is placed a little too distantly in relation to the excellent pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, thus reducing the opportunity for greater musical dialogue between the two instruments. Moreover for this work, the electrifying performance of Isabelle Faust and Ewa Kupiec on Harmonia Mundi still remains unrivalled. Erik Levi