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Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor; Bruch: Romance in F for viola and orchestra; Violin Concerto No. 1.

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor; Bruch: Romance in F for viola and orchestra; Violin Concerto No. 1. Janine Jansen, violin; Riccardo Chailly, Gewandhausorchester. Decca B0007260-2.

It's hard to argue with success, especially when you're a virtuoso violinist and a beautiful woman like Janine Jansen. However, it's hard to tell just which quality Decca is selling here, given that Ms. Jansen is featured seven times on the CD cover and in the booklet insert. Indeed, the sixteen-page booklet devotes nine of its pages to pictures of the artist, several of them two-page spreads. Well, you can't blame the company, I suppose. Selling classical albums is like selling anything else. Which in this case is some pretty well-played music.

Ms. Jansen approaches the Mendelssohn in a traditional manner, with her dexterity and poetic touch well in evidence, the concerto giving her ample opportunity to show her skills since it begins by introducing the violin from the outset. She says that for her it is not the familiar, grand opening movement or even the rousing finale but the slow second movement Andante that is at the heart of the work; so, naturally, it is here that she concentrates her efforts, bringing it off quite fluently and tenderly. Then after that moment of repose, she dazzles us with her brilliant technique in the closing Allegro.

She chose two accompanying pieces, one familiar, the other not. The familiar is Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, a work that in many ways imitates, or at least pays tribute, to the Mendelssohn, and, as expected, Ms. Jansen brings it off well, too. But of more importance, perhaps, most of us already having the Mendelssohn and Bruch concertos in favorite performances, anyhow, is her viola playing in the Bruch Romance. It is only about eight minutes long, but it is quite haunting.

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra may be the oldest orchestra in the world, depending on how you measure such things, and it is the orchestra that premiered the Mendelssohn, so you could say the players have the music in their blood. The Decca engineers caught their relatively new chief conductor, Riccardo Chailly, and the group in a live performance, but you would never guess it unless you read the fine print on the last page of the disc booklet. They miked the orchestra fairly close up, so you don't get any of that vague, distant, dullish sound that you do with many live recordings, with audience noises and applause at the end. Instead, you get what appears to be a good studio recording, with plenty of robust frequency range and dynamics coming from a dead-quite background, the applause apparently edited out. It's a good proposition all the way around.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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