Tamsin Waley-Cohen / Huw Watkins / David Curtis / Orchestra of the Swan

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Concerto for Violin, Piano & Strings

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Newcomers should be sure they know what they're getting here; the Mendelssohn violin concerto on offer is not the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, but a much earlier work, the Violin Concerto in D minor, written in 1822 when Mendelssohn was 13. It was not performed publicly until Yehudi Menuhin played it at Carnegie Hall in 1952. The Concerto for violin, piano, and string orchestra in D minor that rounds out the program was composed a year later. These pieces are not masterpieces, but they shed a great deal of light on Mendelssohn's development as a composer and are not dull in the least. The violin concerto is roughly contemporaneous with Mendelssohn's 12 string symphonies, and as it begins you expect more of the pure Baroque-Classical language of those. That holds true through the substantial orchestral exposition, but when the soloist enters the picture shifts completely; violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen catches the divergence beautifully. The violin line is free, complex, quite virtuoso-oriented, and related only by harmony to the orchestral material. For a 13-year-old composer it was a bold formal experiment, and it remains startling on its own terms. The double concerto is not quite so successful, for Mendelssohn never quite solves the problem of the relationship between violin and piano, but the work's scope is impressive, and both Waley-Cohen and pianist Huw Watkins play it with vigor and verve. The Orchestra of the Swan could not be called silky, and the soloists, overmiked, receive inadequate support from Signum, but this remains an essential pick for Mendelssohn buffs.

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