Bach • Vasks: Violin Concertos

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach,Vasks
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Bach • Vasks: Violin Concertos
WORKS: Bach: Violin Concertos, BWV 1041-1042; Vasks: Distant Light
PERFORMER: Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Renaud Capuçon (violin); Céline Frisch
CATALOGUE NO: 2564632322

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Latvian composer Pe¯teris Vasks must be doing something right. Extraordinarily, this recording of Distant Light is the sixth since Gidon Kremer premiered the work in 1997. The title alludes to the glow of stars millions of light years away, but it’s a violin concerto also pondering childhood experience and the way in which reality always intersects with the quest for a more spiritual Utopia. The result is a melting pot of compositional styles and performance techniques that somehow cohere thanks to the sheer sincerity of Vasks’s vision.

From scudding stratospheres to more earthly folk-inflected laments, it brings out the best in Renaud Capuçon. His grasp of the music’s loosely palindromic trajectory is compelling; he meets the technical and emotional challenges of the three strategically placed cadenzas head on, is careful never to over-milk the soulful cantilenas, and steers the sporadic outcrops of nostalgia away from kitsch. The Mosso section could perhaps use a little more bite (Anthony Marwood on Hyperion probes a touch deeper), but overall Capuçon is a compelling advocate.

Less convincing is Capuçon’s Bach. It’s all very deft, but too often the music unfolds with a military precision that would have gladdened the heart of a Prussian such as Frederick the Great. The A minor Concerto fares best, but even here some of its energy emerges a tad glib, and the basses make heavy weather of the recurring figure in the slow movement.

Capuçon chose the Vasks to avoid an obvious coupling with the Bach ‘Double’. A good call as it happens.

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Paul Riley