Isabelle Faust / Daniel Harding

Béla Bartók: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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German violinist Isabelle Faust has accomplished highly regarded Bartók performances in the past, and she truly comes into her own with this recording of the Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz 112, and the much-less-often-heard Violin Concerto No. 1, Sz 36, Op. posth. Indeed, the prime attraction of the album might be the earlier work, composed in 1907 and highly personal in content; it was written for a violinist with whom Bartók was hopelessly in love. She refused to perform it (so it goes), and the work was not played until after Bartók's death. Faust makes an excellent case for the two-movement work, whose soaring first movement is completely Romantic in spirit if not in harmonic content, and she captures the delicate, youthful quality of the work as a whole with graceful playing and a fluid tone in the upper registers. The performance of the Violin Concerto No. 2 is also very strong. There is nothing outwardly striking about it, but its cumulative effect is tremendous as Faust slashes through the work's folk rhythms, maintains perfect control through the slow movement's turbulent double stops, and delivers the energy needed for the finale in which the violin raises the tension to a hair trigger, only to drop out of the action at the end. Much of the effect lies in the ensemble work between Faust and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding; this is not an especially heralded group, but here they work beautifully with the soloist. Fine engineering work from Harmonia Mundi (the location is not specified) and cogent booklet notes by Faust herself complete a satisfying Bartók package.

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