Monday, July 23, 2012

Recordings: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Ida Haendel, Violin
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
CAP 21359

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Isabelle van Keulen, Violin
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
CPO 777 199-2
There are currently two available recordings of this work; an ”original cast” recording featuring the same forces involved in the work’s premiere, and the CPO version made about a half-generation later, with the same orchestra but a different soloist and conductor. The two recordings actually present two different versions of the work, the original and revised.

It is most likely that the Caprice recording presents the work in Pettersson’s original conception. Based on my somewhat careful study of the revised version score, it appears that the major differences the revised version presents are as follows:

1.    More regular use of orchestral solo strings rather than full section strings
2.    More “real” tuttis, where the soloist is silent and just the orchestra is playing
3.   Throughout, parts of the solo line are given to the upper woodwinds or orchestral strings (in other words, the soloist plays less in this version, even though no notes are lost)

Although one normally expects excellent liner notes from any CPO release, (this one is no exception), the details surrounding the revised version are a bit lacking. This work was a commission from the Swedish Radio and was premiered on 25 January 1980. This is where I hoped CPO would have said more, but I am guessing that Pettersson heard the recording of the premiere and decided (and/or was convinced by someone else) to make the revisions. He must have made them quickly, because he died on 20 June 1980 and was certainly working on other things up until his death.

Having said that, I personally prefer the CPO recording, for several reasons. First and foremost, I think the revised version is superior to the original. For example, take the opening measures, where the solo (as opposed to full section) strings begin the work, and the soloist emerges from this wonderful chamber music-like texture. Also, having real tuttis without the soloist are also more musically satisfying, as here we have the soloist lead us to these sections, but then the orchestra can then speak for itself. In the original version, I feel like there is a bit of “soloist fatigue” where the soloist plays more notes than is necessary; in places it is just more effective for the orchestra to take over. Finally, both the SRSO and Isabelle van Keulen play marvelously. van Keulen really tries to make music out of this piece, using beautiful tone throughout despite how difficult Pettersson makes it. Finally, the CPO release has noticeably better sound quality (both of CPO’s Pettersson recordings involving the SRSO sound much better than the other releases in the series), which is not necessarily surprising considering the age of the Caprice recording.

Of course, the Caprice recording is not without merit. Here we have Pettersson’s original thoughts on this piece. We also have the scrappy but nevertheless jaw-dropping virtuosity of Ida Haendel, who has a fair amount more notes to deal with in the original version.

1 comment:

  1. Yes the sound of the Haendel recording is downright ugly.