Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds / Frank Peter Zimmermann

Sibelius: Violin Concerto; The Wood Nymph

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There's no shortage of recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, but the great virtuosi of the middle 20th century had a lot to say about the work, and the flood of performances has slowed somewhat. Several modern releases pair the concerto with modernist works, and a potential attraction of this Finnish release is that the accompanying orchestral pieces are, instead, by Sibelius himself, and relative rarities. They make an attractive pair; The Bard, Op. 64, is a rather mystical yet tightly knit tone poem whose extramusical inspiration has remained vague, while The Wood Nymph, Op. 15, from 1895, is in Sibelius' early and more obvious mode, with an episodic quality and touches of both Dvorák and Wagner. That work is a bit diffuse, but either piece could enliven an orchestral concert. The violin concerto is given a brisk, generally dry, and technically precise performance by Frank Peter Zimmermann, reminiscent in places of Jascha Heifetz's durable reading. Its most noticeable feature is the quick pace of the finale, which Zimmermann executes with impressive control. The booklet notes by Vesa Sirén, in English and Finnish, refer to the performance tradition that has led most violinists to take this movement more slowly (and critic Donald Francis Tovey to call it "a polonaise for polar bears"); the case for Zimmermann's way of playing it is persuasive, and so is the performance. Top-notch engineering from the Ondine label, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra playing in familiar confines at the city's Finlandia Hall, makes a contribution to a strong contender for anyone considering recordings of the Sibelius violin concerto.

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