Janine Jansen – In Interview, On CD, And At The Proms

Written by: Colin Anderson

When Dutch violinist Janine Jansen walks onto the Royal Albert Hall’s platform this Saturday, it will be her very first time in the place. And it’s not any old Prom either, but the Nation’s Favourite, which includes popular arias and Sir David Attenborough narrating Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Perfect casting! Under the scrutiny of BBC1 and Radio 3, one imagines Janine’s RAH premiere might be a daunting prospect, intensified by having to project the intimacies of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending into the Hall’s vastness. Pure speculation – Janine is totally unfazed! “I’ve seen BBC Proms on television. It’s huge! It shouldn’t be a problem. People who’ve played there say it’s a great atmosphere.” A capacity RAH and wide-broadcast coverage should ease Janine’s concerns about classical music’s outreach – “it would be nice to get it to the youth.”

I ask why she chose the Vaughan Williams. “It was proposed by the Proms. I didn’t have that much to say about it, but it’s a fantastic piece I love to play. I think about a bird in flight, very free; you really feel this freedom. I played it a couple of years ago in Holland and I programme the Britten concerto a lot. I’m trying my best!” A reference to British Music’s supposed insularity; Elgar’s concerto is a possible addition to Janine’s repertoire. I ask her what her first impressions of the VW were, something obviously British or does it have more universal qualities? “I find it difficult to put things into categories. It has a nice simplicity but is also deep.”

Janine’s open, natural and unbiased approach informs her musicianship and musical tastes, defying pigeonholing, and epitomised by her first CD just out on Decca 475 011-2, which mixes Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, John Williams’s music for Schindler’s List, some well-known Shostakovich (as used on TV!) and, indeed, The Lark Ascending. “I like to do many different things. The CD shows these sides of me, nice for a first CD, to get to know me!” Barry Wordsworth conducts, as he will at the Prom. “Making the CD was a very intensive time. He’s a great guy. He gave me good advice when we were listening to playbacks. You feel completely at ease with him.”

Janine is from a very musical family. “My father is an organist, my mother a singer, and two brothers, also organist and one’s a cellist.” Initially Janine dallied with the piano and sung in her father’s choir, but “the violin was the first serious instrument. Actually, I wanted to play the cello. I love its deep dark sound.” Her elder brother got there first! Chamber music is important, “it’s part of who I want to be as a musician. I love making music together.” Has Janine been influenced by any particular violinist-legend of the past? Given the freshness with which she plays, her answer doesn’t surprise. “I like to listen to them, but I don’t even think about it, I follow my own way. My teacher Philipp Hirshhorn always said to keep spontaneity. Play like you feel it. It’s one of the most important things for me in music.” Janine’s musical interests cover centuries. “I grew up in the Baroque scene; my dad is also a harpsichordist and my uncle and grandfather are into baroque things.” Janine again enthuses about Britten’s concerto, adds-in Barber’s, and she’s taking up Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord, recently composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Janine is one of the BBC’s New Generation Artists, which “brings publicity, lots of concerts and the chance to meet other musicians. It’s a nice learning process.” Janine calls herself a “home person” and is now more used to travelling – “the music-making gives me so much joy.” Janine thinks the Proms are “fantastic. The people are so incredibly enthusiastic when maybe there’s less interest in classical music. To see these people listening to Bruckner symphonies, or whatever, just standing there, completely into the music – really it’s a celebration of music.”

  • BBC Proms
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 16 July and is reproduced here with permission

Simply entitled “Janine Jansen”, her first CD is, as she suggests, an ideal calling card; various sides of her musical interests are presented. Her playing is, also as she says, from herself – she is spontaneous, fresh, deploys a lovely tone and a natural sense of phrase. There’s fireworks for the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, such unforced energy also enlivening the middle section of Saint-Saëns’s Havanaise, its sultry and seductive outer portions beautifully distilled, so too Khachaturian’s Nocturne from Masquerade. The ’other’ Saint-Saëns standard, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, is also here, flowing and dancing, with no lack of lyrical ardour. To TV and the big screen – Shostakovich’s Romance found fame as a signature tune, and we get the main theme for Schindler’s List (John Williams). Jansen plays both with the same devotion as the ’classics’. I love Ravel but am not keen on Tzigane; Jansen’s fiery freedom is preferable to an over-worked approach.

Of Vaughan Williams’s quite wonderful The Lark Ascending, a deeply beautiful, deeply felt study of remarkable poetry and humanism, Jansen, the RPO and Barry Wordsworth (who offer able support throughout) attain a sense of peace that ravishes the ear. While I suspect that nobody will get near let alone surpass the EMI recording by Hugh Bean and Boult, one is pleased to have Janine Jansen in this music too.

While Jansen is excellently recorded, with focus and space judiciously balanced, the recording of the orchestra is less satisfactory – too distant, hollow-sounding and edgy in fortissimos. Fortunately, the more intimate pieces, of which The Lark Ascending is the jewel, escape such audiophile strictures.

In any case, like VW’s lark, Janine Jansen is also in ascendancy, and one looks forward to hearing her many more times in the future.

  • “Janine Jansen” DECCA 475 011-2 [57’22″]; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Barry Wordsworth [Recorded February 2003 at The Colosseum, Watford]
  • Universal
  • Janine Jansen

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