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Brahms, Busoni: Violin Concertos - Dego, Stasevska

Brahms, Busoni: Violin Concertos - Dego, Stasevska

Chandos  CHSA 5333

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Brahms: Violin Concerto
Busoni: Violin Concerto

Francesca Dego (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Dalia Stasevska (conductor)


The celebrated violinist Francesca Dego is joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and her regular collaborator Dalia Stasevska for this recording of the violin concertos by Brahms and Busoni. A cornerstone of the repertoire, Brahms’s Concerto dates from 1878, a year after the Second Symphony, and was composed for (and dedicated to) the virtuoso Joseph Joachim. The Concerto takes the standard three-movement form, and as in Beethoven’s Concerto (considered by many as Brahms’s inspiration for the work) the first movement is significant in its length and its complexity.

Busoni’s Violin Concerto in its turn is inspired by both Brahms and Beethoven, and like both previous works it is in the key of D major. Premièred in Berlin in 1897 by the Dutch violinist Henri Petri, the Concerto is dazzlingly virtuosic. Francesca Dego writes: ‘To be able to record Brahms’s Violin Concerto is a dream and a milestone for every violinist and I feel that with “my” Brahms I do not want to compete with the many gorgeous versions out there but instead to declare my own love and history with my favourite violin concerto. Busoni’s Concerto, however, is a rarely performed work, brought to the studio only a handful of times. It represents a different kind of responsibility, one that pushed me to want to rediscover every detail of this music as if it had never been played before.’

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Review by Graham Williams - April 18, 2024

With a catalogue boasting scores of recordings of the Brahms Violin Concerto from the most distinguished soloists of the past hundred years, it would be unfortunate if this performance from the Italian /American violinist Francesca Dego on this splendidly recorded Chandos SACD were to be overlooked. It is a fascinating one as is its unusual coupling – the Violin Concerto by Ferruccio Busoni.

It is a mystery to me and I suspect many others as to why Busoni’s only Violin Concerto (1896-97) composed during his early Berlin years and dedicated to violinist Henri Petri, father of pianist and Busoni’s friend Egon Petri, is something of a rarity both on disc and in the concert hall. The piece shows complete mastery of the form throughout its short 23 minute span is brim full of captivating melodies in addition to virtuosic bravura. From the start one’s attention is drawn to Busoni’s use of the timpani (reproduced with perfect clarity throughout this recording) and his near quotes from both the Beethoven and Brahms Violin Concertos. Unless I am mistaken there is even a hint of the ubiquitous Bruch concerto at 2.01 into the ravishing central Quasi andante section. Dego’s sensitive and well sprung account could hardly be improved upon and the invigorating accompaniment from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and their Principal Guest Conductor Dalia Stasevska is crisp and alert. A brief video from the recording session of the Busoni can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aMOr0auTus and should certainly pique the attention of listeners unfamiliar with this concerto.

In the liner notes Francesca Dego reflects on her lifelong connection with the Brahms Violin Concerto, expressing a desire to rediscover its nuances with a fresh perspective. She writes: “The Concerto has always been a part of me, an inspiring staple on and off stage since I first performed it, aged fifteen”, and her forthright unsentimental approach does suggest she is keen to convey a sense of discovering this familiar score anew. Dalia Stasvenska’s elicits excellent playing from the BBC Symphony in the opening orchestral exposition with admirably clear textures that allow the timpani to make its mark with striking vividness which is the case throughout this recording. Appropriately Dego opts for the striking Busoni cadenza with its timpani accompaniment rather than the more often heard alternatives by Joachim or Kreisler.

As the first movement unfolds it becomes apparent that Dego’s instrument at times fails to cut through the orchestral texture and often becomes subsumed. On many recordings of this concerto the violin is closed miked and given an unrealistic larger than life presence and I welcome that it is not the case here, though some may disagree. The ‘Adagio’ that follows is played with a wistful charm and the ‘Finale’ has all the rhythmic verve and joyous virtuosity that one would expect. Though not a library choice for this concerto Francesca Dego’s is an intriguing approach and well worth hearing.

Thanks to the clean acoustic of the Phoenix Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Croydon where these works were recorded in July 2023, and the usual excellent efforts of the Chandos recording team the sound does full justice to the performances.

Overall, this release comes highly recommended, albeit with reservations regarding the balance between soloist and orchestra in the Brahms Concerto.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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