Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
Czech Suite, Op.39
Two Waltzes, Op.54 No.1
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Joseph Swensen (violin)
Recorded on 22-23 February 2004 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: December 2005
CD No: LINN RECORDS CKD 241
Duration: 64 minutes
Joseph Swensen has tended to follow a pleasing formula in his Scottish Chamber Orchestra recordings for Linn, linking a major violin concerto with thoughtful and interesting couplings of the same composer’s output. The approach has reaped dividends with Mendelssohn, Brahms and Prokofiev so far, and here Swensen turns his attention to Dvořák.
The call to arms with which Dvořák’s Violin Concerto opens is noticeably crisper than normal, almost excessively so; this is no doubt due to the reduced instrumental forces (but not volume) of a chamber orchestra. Furthermore vibrato is at a premium; the timbre is reedy. This approach is epitomised by the violinist in his initial response to the tutti but not throughout, the performance settling as the movement takes shape. Swensen’s pianissimo moments are particularly memorable, working to especially good effect in a beautifully intimate Adagio, relaxed in tempo but pushing on where appropriate. Here there is plenty of vibrato, but Swensen stops short of over-indulging, and when the open-air theme of the finale enters that Swensen is totally in tune with Dvořák’s folksy sensibilities is engagingly apparent.
There’s a strong sense of Dvořák’s heritage, too, in the Czech Suite, where the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s strings are languid in the ‘Preludium’. There is a nice lilt to the following ‘Polka’, the violins just occasionally losing touch with each other in the second subject, and the ‘Romance’ is appealing in its intimacy.
Two shorter works complete the programme, a sensitively rendered Nocturne in string orchestra form and, to end on an upbeat note, a lightly bouncy Waltz. Swensen brings many good things to these carefully prepared performances, with excellent playing from the orchestra, and the recorded sound is exceptionally good.