Sibelius: Violin Concerto; The Tempest: Prelude No. 1; Prelude No. 2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Violin Concerto; The Tempest: Prelude No. 1; Prelude No. 2
PERFORMER: Dmitri Sitkovetsky (violin); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: CD 98.353
Of the almost 70 versions of the Violin Concerto now available, most opt for another concerto and none offer this particular coupling. Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s recommendable account with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner strikes the right balance between the aristocratic poise and subtle poetry of the opening and the zigeuner brilliance of the virtuoso writing. Moreover, Sitkovetsky brings a welcome restraint to the slow movement and his finale is effortlessly brilliant. Predictably, since he is an artist of high intelligence, this strikes me as more thoughtful than most rivals from the last decade or so, though I would not prefer it to Cho-Liang Lin (Sony) or Kyung-Wha Chung (Decca). The recording, made in Henry Wood Hall, London, is well detailed and for the most part naturally balanced, but a little overbright. Marriner’s reading of the Prelude and two suites from The Tempest is scrupulously attentive to detail and at times (as in ‘Chorus of the Winds’) atmospheric; at others, it is wanting in mystery. The closing bars of the Prelude are so much more magical and mysterious in the hands of Beecham. The top-heavy recording does not help and if ‘The Oak Tree’ does not have the eerie, other-worldly feel to it, the prominence of the flautist is partly to blame. Petri Sakari (Naxos) casts the stronger spell though his two suites come as fill-ups to different symphonies.

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Sibelians who have not yet found their way to the complete score should try Osmo Vänskä’s masterly BIS recording. Robert Layton