Arabella Steinbacher / Fabio Luisi

Brahms: Violinkonzert; Schumann: Symphonie No. 4

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The Wiener Symphoniker and soloist Arabella Steinbacher indeed do justice to these masterworks by Brahms and Schumann in this live recording. Steinbacher is a violinist quite up to the task of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77, as her entry after the orchestral introduction shows an artist who plays with precision and clarity. Her style is generally light and lyrical, with a sense of delicacy and sensitivity. However, the passionate outburst, as it were, halfway through the first movement is a nice contrast to her smooth, clean lines. Her cadenza at the end of the first movement is also quite passionate and the listener can hear her fire emerge. Yet it is never sloppy, a sure sign that Steinbacher's technique is excellent and solid underneath her artistry. The violin positively sings tenderly and heartbreakingly at the end. While her bowing can run on the thin side, as it seems in the second movement, it is always steady and the lines never break. Steinbacher's interpretation of the third movement produces appropriate tension in the phrases as she plays very much into the string. Her bow attacks are exacting, and her vibrato is active. Fabio Luisi leads the Wiener Symphoniker in wonderful synchronization with the violinist, creating a grand orchestral sound underneath and capturing the essence of Brahms' richness and highly textured orchestration. Schumann's Fourth Symphony, Op. 120, is played with equal musical prowess. The serious, somber beginning that accelerates to a faster tempo is accomplished with perfect unison. The listener hears Schumann's energy and turbulent passion throughout the work, as Luisi brings out the counterpoint. The scherzo is appropriately playful, with its lilting rhythm and vigorous percussion. Yet the movement is lyrical, too, with the strings and upper winds contrasting with the lower voices. The final movement begins undeniably langsam, with the rolling, thundering timpani and swelling brass, then gives way to the lebhaft section that is magnificent and exciting. Luisi and the Wiener Symphoniker truly understand the music and how to convey its dynamics, tempi, and moods in a way that is very inviting to the listener. The only general criticism of this album is that the sound is a bit thin and, at the beginning of the violin concerto, slightly tinny; this may be due to the filtering out of the audience and background noise on this live recording, which perhaps compromises the overall sound.

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