Dvorak: Violin Concerto; Czech Suite; Nocturne for Strings in B, Op. 40; Waltz No. 1, Op. 54

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WORKS: Violin Concerto; Czech Suite; Nocturne for Strings in B, Op. 40; Waltz No. 1, Op. 54
PERFORMER: Scottish CO/Joseph Swensen (violin)
Despite its relatively modest instrumentation, it is unusual to encounter a performance of the Dvoák Violin Concerto in which the soloist takes on the extra responsibility of directing the orchestra. That Joseph Swensen is able to combine both tasks so effectively and convincingly is a tribute to his musicianship, as well as highlighting the fantastic understanding he has developed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra whose accompaniment in this outstandingly engineered release is well-nigh flawless in terms of ensemble and range of colour.


Fiery and intense in the opening movement, Swensen produces a particularly magical sound in the gorgeous lyrical melodies of the slow movement. A minor quibble is his somewhat mannered phrasing in the opening melody of the Finale. Here Isabelle Faust on Harmonia Mundi recorded in the richly resonant acoustic of the Prague’s Rudolfinum secures a greater rustic exhilaration, aided to some degree by the authentic instrumental timbres of the Prague Philharmonia. But elsewhere it would be difficult to make a clear choice between these two fine performances.


The rest of Swensen’s programme is devoted to comparative rarities, including the haunting Nocturne which is given a very atmospheric performance. In the Czech Suite, the conductor’s brisk no-nonsense tempo for the ‘Sousedská’ robs the movement of some of its innocent charm, though the rest of the work is delivered with plenty of warmth and rhythmic incisiveness, the ‘Furiant’ in particular building up a really exciting head of steam. Erik Levi