Vieuxtemps/Lalo

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COMPOSERS: Vieuxtemps/Lalo
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor
PERFORMER: Sarah Chang (violin);’ Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55292 2 DDD
Time was when the concertos of Wieniawski, Ernst and Vieuxtemps loomed large in the armoury of every great violinist. But latter-day resistance to salonesque melody and gratuitous bravura display (notwithstanding the prodigious technical difficulties involved), means that many of today’s stellar violin virtuosi sidestep this endlessly fertile backwater of the literature.

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All credit, then, to Sarah Chang, who has joined battle with the phenomenally taxing A minor Violin Concerto of Henri Vieuxtemps. Though barely twenty minutes in duration, this stylish pièce de concours, written in 1861 for the Brussels Conservatoire, requires exemplary brilliance and poetic insight, and the 15-year-old Chang finds within its pages a ferocity and pathos seldom revealed by seasoned performers of twice her age.

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Her account of Lalo’s headstrong Mediterranean masterpiece, the Symphonie espagnole, composed for the great Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate in 1875, is somewhat routine. Given that this performance was recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Chang’s circumspection is forgiveable, though detrimental to the abandon and passionate frisson that this music invites. EMI’s engineering only partially exploits the fabled acoustics of this great auditorium, and conductor Charles Dutoit seems strangely uncomfortable with the score. The studio performance of the Vieuxtemps is quite riveting, nonetheless. Michael Jameson