The Music Plays On — Sibelius Violin Concerto

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The Violin Concerto of Jean Sibelius is really in a world unto itself. A requires an unique understanding of form and function, musicianship and technique, of the violinist. Its demands on the conductor require an unequaled combination of operatic drama and symphonic sensibility. And the demands and contribution from the orchestra, both individually and as a group are on the level of any of Sibelius’ symphonies.

My discovery of this concerto was not through my initial encounters with Sibelius, but through my fascination with Jascha Heifetz, who had passed away while I was in high school and for the following years, there were articles, books, box sets, etc, to help me understand this one of a kind artist.

The recording that was readily available then and known most to the public was his 1959 studio recording with Walter Hendl conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In this recording, and listening to it today with the ears I have now, one hears the iconic inscrutability and supreme confidence of Heifetz’s playing, but I’m left with the impression that everyone else in the room simply doesn’t matter, and that’s not what this concerto is all about, in my opinion. Thirty years ago, when hearing this the first time, I was just simply in awe with Heifetz’s overwhelming personality, and this recording certainly gave me the bug of finding more recording of this remarkable piece. Luckily this led me to Heifetz’s first (approved) studio recording from 1935, with Thomas Beecham and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

To this day, it remains one of my favorite recordings. There is a sense of singular purpose and true collaboration that has seldom been matched. Sorry for the hiss…if you can past that, I think it’s the best version one can find on YouTube. If not,

Since then, there have been many recordings that I have truly enjoyed, and I guarantee I’m probably going to leave out your favorite recording. It’s a piece that suits itself to the recording studio, as there are balance issues that tend to too often neuter the sound of the orchestra, or soloist, in performance.

Since it’s free for the time being, here’s a remarkable live performance with Leonidas Kavakos and Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

And here’s a charastically charismatic and intensely personal performance with Janine Jansen and Christoph Eschenbach conducting the SWR Stuttgart Orchestra.

I leave you, though, with a recording of an artist that should never be forgotten, Ginette Neveu. Her untimely and incredibly tragic death at age 30 in an airplane crash stopped short one of the most intriguing and promising musical careers and this recording is truly extraordinary.

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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