A leading independent label with some serious attitude…
By Roy Gregory
Record Labels are a bit like audio companies: the major producers get most of the attention, even if it’s the fringe players that often deliver the most interesting product. With that in mind, we have instituted an occasional series to draw attention to lesser-known or over-looked record labels that produce consistently interesting and often excellent sounding recordings. But let’s be clear – the emphasis here is firmly on the music first. Superb sound is often a necessary partnering condition, but a great performance is what really matters. Not all recordings (or artists) are created equal, even within a single catalogue, but some fields are more fertile than others. The labels we feature are just that – promising collections worthy of your attention.
Founded in 1999, Alpha Classics is a multi-award-winning, independent record label from France – with a difference. Their mission statement claims commitment to “artistic projects that are demanding, bold and often off the beaten track.” It’s an attitude that is reflected in their artists as much as their recorded repertoire, the label boasting the likes of Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Barbara Hannigan, Sandrine Piau and Giovanni Antonini amongst their roster, performing music that stretches from the Renaissance to the 21st Century. It’s almost a who’s who of current committed eclectics and characters, performers responsible for some of the most exciting and entertaining concerts that I’ve attended. It’s a quality that extends to their recordings and the Rouvali/Gothenburg S.O. Sibelius cycle (for example) has featured regularly in reviews, not least because it challenges musical assumptions and therefore a system’s performance in equal parts. But in choosing discs that encapsulate the label’s output, it’s another Sibelius recording I’ve picked.
Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor
Rautavaara Violin Concerto
Tobias Feldman (Violin)
Jean-Jacques Kantorow (Cond.)
Orchestra Philharmonique Royal De Liege
Alpha Classics CD 357
A young, rapidly rising soloist alongside a bona fide pillar of the French musical intelligentsia, is there a disc that’s more ‘Alpha’ than this one? Well – arguably my second choice, but we’ll get to that… In the meantime, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Franco-Russian violinist and conductor (as well as father of tyro-pianist Alexander) leads Tobias Feldman through a balanced and surprisingly mature reading of the Sibelius, a little workmanlike through the first movement, waking up in the second and coming fully alive in a wonderful, third that gets the clumsy, romping rhythms just right. If it doesn’t challenge Wicks, Haendel or Batiashvili, it’s still an insightful and engaging listen, but one that leads you to the inevitable conclusion that what this disc is really all about is the opening piece, Rautavarra’s startling and other-worldly, two movement concerto.
The pairing with the Sibelius brings out the shared cultural background but also the close relationship between the two composers, Rautavarra being the first recipient (and the composer’s own choice) of the Sibelius scholarship. The musical parallels are clear, but so two are other influences, the changing world that Rautavaara encountered while studying at the Juilliard, the staccato and impressionistic music of Shostakovich. The result is at once detached and tense, with sporadic instrumental discussion and sparing use of the orchestra, creating a musical perspective that is as dramatic as it is engaging as it is demanding to play. Feldman, Kantorow and the Liege respond with just the right mix of controlled gusto and musical enthusiasm, creating a wonderfully compelling account of this seldom performed and even more seldom recorded work. While Rautavaara is finally starting to receive the attention he so richly deserves (the Hahn Paris album on DGG is a case in point) this disc still represents a hidden trea.