Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Violin Concerto in D, K218
Creepin’ In [arr. Kennedy]
Polish Chamber Orchestra
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Recorded 19-23 March 2007 in Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: EMI CLASSICS 3 95373 2
Duration: 78 minutes
At the age of 51 Nigel Kennedy (born 1956) still cuts a rebellious figure in the world of classical music. The cover of this release sees him wandering along a barren landscape, violin-case in hand and Mohican haircut intact. You can never expect a conventional approach from this artist and for this he should be applauded. But in trying to impose his own style to the classical repertoire he’s been accused of drifting so far from the composer’s intentions as to make the work barely recognisable. Which is a shame, as the eccentricities often overshadow an artist of not inconsiderable stature. On this recording it’s the Mozart Concerto that’s going to raise eyebrows with Kennedy‘s own cadenzas played on an electric-violin. Note the use of the author “Kennedy” for the electric cadenzas, and ”Nigel Kennedy” for the acoustic ones. Bizarre!
His previous recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was released over 15 years ago. A relatively conventional affair (by his standards) with Klaus Tennstedt at the helm, Kennedy says he wanted to re-visit this work because he believes the piece has more “rhythmic vitality” than his earlier version demonstrated. The use of a chamber orchestra adds to a feeling of reduced scale. Kennedy himself directs in order to create “direct communication” between soloist and orchestra.
Devotees of a more lyrical approach to this concerto may be rather taken aback by the quicker tempos and sparser feel of the first movement. The sound is lean, the strings of the Polish Chamber Orchestra sound a mite thin and Kennedy’s violin is rather too forwardly placed, not seemingly in “direct communication” with each other. The cumulative effect of Kennedy’s rather matter-of-fact approach and the leanness of the orchestral sound rather rob the piece of its gravitas, although I warmed more to it on subsequent hearings.
In contrast the Larghetto is taken spaciously, it’s almost thirteen minutes long, and is utterly beautiful in places. Some may find the tempo here too slow, and in lesser hands that could very well be the case. But it’s Kennedy total concentration and intense feelings that win the day here. His tone is sweet and there’s much more interaction with the orchestra. The finale is fresh and very rhythmic but rather hard-driven , and with the strings sounding rather rough the overall effect is somewhat charm-less. The violinist uses his own adaptation of Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza in the first movement; and for the finale he supplies his own rather effective one in its recapitulating the main themes from the first and last movements.
The downside of Kennedy’s tampering is felt most acutely in the Mozart. The addition of a harpsichord to “add warmth” is harmless enough, but when his electric-violin launches into the first-movement cadenza (also requiring double bassist Michal Baranski) we’re suddenly transported into some kind of progressive-rock solo from the 1970s. The net effect of this attempt to give the piece a “contemporary edge” is so disconcerting as to make it virtually impossible to re-focus attention on Mozart and the opening of the slow movement. The Andante is also the unfortunate recipient of the Kennedy treatment although the non-electric “Nigel Kennedy” cadenza for the finale at least sounds as if it vaguely belongs to the 18th-century.
The jazz encore, Kennedy’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Creepin’ In” is pleasant enough but pointless in the context of the programme as a whole.