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Beethoven, Britten: Violin Concertos
Dutch violin star Janine Jansen brings together the great concerto by Beethoven and the rarely heard concerto by Benjamin Britten - Acclaimed Dutch violinist Janine Jansen fulfills a long-held ambition to record Benjamin B... more »
Dutch violin star Janine Jansen brings together the great concerto by Beethoven and the rarely heard concerto by Benjamin Britten - Acclaimed Dutch violinist Janine Jansen fulfills a long-held ambition to record Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto alongside the monumental Beethoven Violin Concerto. According to Janine, these are "two of the greatest concertos ever written." Janine has championed the Britten Concerto since she first played it nearly ten years ago. The work, composed while Britten was in his 20s and his first complete composition after arriving in the US in 1939, features both technically brilliant and elegantly lyrical elements. "Whenever a violin repertory piece needs revitalizing, there's one simple solution. Hire Janine Jansen to play it." --The Times, London Janine pairs this 20th-century work with the Beethoven Concerto and brings a similarly new perspective to the work. The recording of the Beethoven follows the acclaimed Beethoven Symphony cycle from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi.
Understanding Jansen's simple, musicianly genius
John H. Beck | NYC/USA | 12/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My short take: if you want your music to push you around, this Beethoven isn't it. If you are willing to step into the circle, stand by Ms. Jansen on the stage as she plays, and let the notes rise up inside you, you will marvel at the Beethoven. In either case, the Britten should just tear you up.
A longer account:
The wonder of music is that we can not only take it in differently, as we do novels and paintings, but that performers can reveal it to us from different directions. I grew up with Jascha Heifetz' recordings of everything violin. I managed classical music stations in Boston and New York City for a dozen years. And the musical presentation I respond to has evolved. Though I'm twice her age, Janine Jansen's interpretations are immensely satisfying for me.
Heifetz was of that generation which hurled the music at you. The performer was a god and you were commanded "Hear!" and "Feel that!" As a young man, all in love with minor keys and outer drama, I loved it, and still do. Jansen's is a different approach. She's from a family of musicians. This is the family business, and like old J.S. Bach, she just pulls it up from her roots.
I first recognized her approach when she did the great Schubert C major Quintet with the group Spectrum Concerts Berlin. (You can find her on many of their Naxos recordings doing wonderful chamber music.) As an adviser to Spectrum I sat in on the rehearsals and thought that they were rather tentative. Then in the splendid thousand seat in-the-round chamber hall of Berlin's Philharmonie I found that I was being invited into a circle of friends, musicians all of us, who had gathered to open up something wonderful that our dear Franz had left behind for us. There were no imperatives -- Hear! Feel! Who needed them? Rather we were all listening from a personal depth. There was no effort to tell us what to think and feel, just an exploration that was so fine, so appreciative, that I felt like I had been Schubert's friend. It was a very powerful experience.
Similarly, this Beethoven concerto is not about how the piece can overwhelm us, but about the genius of Beethoven in putting his talent and his life into it. It's a meditative interpretation, even, with no effort at effects, just a constant surface tension beneath which are genuine depths. If you can really sit and listen in, you will find layers of shellac stripped away, so to speak.
The Britten concerto is a work of great introspection already, written at a truly ghastly moment in modern civilization. Britten, a pacifist, was living in the USA in 1940 while Hitler was preparing to crush the mainland of Europe. The scars of the Spanish Civil War were fresh, and Jansen has picked up on that background. The concerto is wonderfully free and imaginative, reflective and passionately engaged. I feel it as a great English follow-through on the line of musical creation pioneered by Mahler, in which the deep sentiment of Elgar is further refined in grief. And yet this was when Britten was forming his life partnership with Peter Pears, so that there are private hopes and joys involved here, too. Jansen and the orchestra share a real masterpiece with us, and the further you can open yourself to it, the more its tender love and tragedy will move you.
We are blessed with many fine violinists, on stage and in their recordings. Though her label has to promote a certain aura of the diva, Janine Jansen is not really about that. She is a great musician, both young and mature, who treats her audience as fellow musicians, exploring together just what it means to be human. She can do fireworks, easily, but when she does, it always really means something."
A neutral, period-flavored Beethoven concerto oddly matched
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/04/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, at 31, comes rather late to a major recording contract with a label like Decca, and since she isn't being promoted as a bright young thing, one hopes that sheer musicianship is her distinctive trait. Of her musicality there can be little doubt. She performs the Beethoven concerto with style and aplomb. The reading is strongly influenced by period style in the orchestra, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, a small-scale band playing without vibrato in the strings, but Jansen doesn't follow suit. Although her tone is small, she uses as much expressive vibrato as anyone. Pleasant as Jansen's very even tone is, her avoidance of eloquence is distressing.
Paavo Jarvi has won praise with the same ensemble for their period-tinged Beethoven symphonies, and I will say that he's not anemic. There's energy and momentum in his conducting, and he inserts punchy attacks that aren't exactly written down. These are external traits, however, and I don't hear an actual interpretation from Jarvi. In fact, apart from a certain period timbre, this is a straightforward conventional accompaniment. Jansen's approach is rather neutral, too, without so much as a personal statement in any movement, although her playing is exemplary from bar to bar. Perhaps the cleanness and purity of her playing is the great appeal, but this is tame Beethoven.
As a unique pairing, she has personally chosen a favorite modern concerto, the Britten, which fairly recently got a brilliant recording from Daniel Hope, which managed to eclipse an excellent one from Maxim Vengerov. The orchestra switches to the London Sym., and they sound ravishing. The young Britten had heard the Berg concerto and been overwhelmed. His own concerto isn't thorny harmonically, but it is personal and at times enigmatic. the opening movement begins with a tango rhythm, the middle movement vivace isn't that far from his Fariations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, and the concluding Passacaglia, reflecting Britten's love of Baroque forms, is built on a melancholy, inward violin line underpinned by a repeated bass that begins in the trombones and wends its way toward an intense, grimly triumphant climax. I think much of this is great, haunting, neglected music. Jansen's reading and Jarvi's accompaniment break no new ground, but they make a much stronger impression than in the Beethoven, and although Jansen doesn't bring a powerful tone to the solo part, she is clearly committed.
In the end, I can't quite see that the audience for a period-flavored Beethoven concerto would overlap with the much smaller, more modernist audience for the Britten. If I am representative, the Britten is the highlight here, but I imagine I am not representative at all and most listeners won't get very far past the Beethoven.
P.S. Feb. 2010 -- In all fairness I should report that on returning to Viktoria Mullova's period-tinged account with John Eliot Gardiner, I didn't find much more vigor than Jansen provides; less in the finale, in fact. This made me like Mullova less rather than Jansen more, because insipid Beethoven makes no sense to me. Given that proviso, Jansen is highly competitive if HIP is the style you prefer."
Odd Beethoven and workable Britten
Prescott Cunningham Moore | 11/11/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If this release were a movie, the casting director should have been fired. For our leading lady, Decca has chosen Janine Jansen, a fine violinist with a light touch and a tendency towards timidity. She plays opposite Paavo Jarvi - brash, aggressive, energetic, assertive. What results is a comedy of errors in all the most literal sense.
The Beethoven is essentially an unmitigated failure. Enter Jarvi, a dashing protagonist with his Breman players following in suit, fresh from their victorious Beethoven cycle on RCA. This historically informed bunch plays with little vibrato, big tone, and aggressive attacks in the tutti passages. Jarvi interjects with lively interpretive details (if not always found in the score) that are throughly logical and serve the music well. So all the more awkward is Jansen's entrance against this background of bravura, her measured, meek, and cautious scale smothered in vibrato completely at odds with Jarvi. What results over the ensuing thirty odd minutes is an awkward, uncomfortable dialogue between two performers with no chemistry and little common ground. Jarvi continues unabashedly forward with his big tone while Jansen uncomfortably darts about, often disappearing in the texture. Tension sags badly during the development of the first movement, not due to the tempo but because Janen's playing lacks the necessary color and character to shape this music effectively. When Jansen finally does decide to play with some energy, it is in the cadenzas, where her technique and tone become both more dazzling and self-assured. All in all, however, the performance is just embarrassing for performers of this caliber. In the notes, Jansen discusses her apprehension of playing with Jarvi and his Bremen players because she (rightly) notes her conception of the concerto is more romantic than Jarvi's obviously HIP ideas about Beethoven. Why no one at Decca took note of this most fundamental of problems is anyone's guess. She would have worked much better with a Kurt Masur, who plays the supporting role very well (just listen to how he indulges every one of Anne-Sophie Mutter's erratic and bizarre impulses in their "collaborative" performance of the Beethoven concerto), while Jarvi would have been better paired with a more aggressive violinist, like Nikolai Znaider or Julia Fischer, who recently signed with Decca.
The Britten goes somewhat better, if only because of its relative unfamiliarity, but Jansen's tendency towards meekness and timidity in the Beethoven becomes full-on intonation problems in this technically challenging work, most notably in the transition from the cadenza into the passacaglia proper. I have less of a problem with the coupling as others, considering both concertos begin with a basic rhythmic pulse that is carried throughout, but I do wonder how two highly skilled and professional musicians had such a massive and pervasive miscommunication in music both know well.
As much as I would like to blame Jarvi for refusing to work with Jansen's conception of the Beethoven, Decca must accept its part in this production. It seems likely that Decca wanted to capitalize on the success of Jarvi's cycle and simply placed him with Janens because of her contract with the label. Such a shame too, because I absolutely loved Jarvi's cycle and was greatly looking forward to this release.
Listeners wanting an interpretation along the lines of Jarvi's in the Beethoven have an embarrassment of riches, from Heifetz's reference Beethoven with Munch in Boston to Isabelle Faust's recent Prague performance with Jiri Belohlavek. Perlman/Giulini leans more towards the romantic end of the spectrum. But there are too many fine performances of this concerto with conductors and performers who are not approaching this work with diametrically opposed views of how the concerto should be played. As for the Britten, Daniel Hope delivers all the goods and then some paired with a fantastic (and more appropriate) coupling, the Berg concerto."