WORKS: Violin Concerto; The Bard; The Wood Nymph
PERFORMER: Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Helsinki PO/John Storgårds
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1147-2
If there’s a star on this disc it’s Anni Kuusimäki, the harpist in the brief but weirdly touching tone poem The Bard. It’s not often that one feels like describing harp playing as ‘eloquent’, but this definitely is. Nor does the elusive, wispy orchestral writing elude John Storgårds.
Storgårds is also impressive in the long opening crescendo of the much earlier tone poem The Wood Nymph, and in the anguished closing pages. On the basis of those I’d say this was a competitor for Osmo Vänskå on BIS, except that Vänskä manages to make more compelling sense of the middle ‘seduction’ section – not Sibelius at his most symphonically cogent. But it’s with the Violin Concerto that the disc stands or falls.
It’s not necessary to read Vesa Sirén’s notes to guess that Frank Peter Zimmermann is determined to peel off the mould of tradition and open up the work afresh. He clearly knows that Sibelius came to regret qualifying the Allegro marking in the finale with the cautious ma non tanto (not too much), and accordingly gives us an urgent, powerfully driven view of this movement.
It’s the most convincing part of the performance. Elsewhere too much of the expression sounds self-consciously applied to the music rather than discovered from within the notes – and nowhere more so than in the vibrato-less opening phrases. It’s an interesting idea, but in Zimmermann’s hands it never sounds more than that.
It’s a long time since we had a new recording of this work that sounded as though it just had to be made. If you want a performance that offers true Sibelian insight rather than glitzy-sentimental start display, head for Pekka Kuusisto on Ondine. Stephen Johnson