A Perfect Prokofiev?

Having heard Mäkelä direct live, I wanted to hear whether Decca could translate his power and presence to disc. The answer to that is a simple, “yes”. The sound here is substantial, with a broad, deep soundstage and real energy, momentum and purpose. In one sense, it’s the perfect foil for Jansen’s rich instrumental voice and string tone. But in the first two movements of the Sibelius that’s what works against her. The iconic opening lacks the fragile, teetering quality that is so evocative, the fineness of line and angular precision, while the Second Movement tips over into sentimentality, the solo instrument receding into rather than contrasting with the orchestra. Which makes the electrifying drive and intent in the Third Movement all the more surprising and impressive. Mäkelä’s direction is energetic and full of his characteristic power, Jansen’s fiddle matching the sense of substance and musical momentum, leading to a suitably shattering finale.

It’s these qualities that make the Prokofiev so impressive. Jansen’s flow and tonal density bring shape, structure, purpose and, yes, a delicate beauty to the solo part. Mäkelä matches it with a sweepingly romantic accompaniment that manages to maintain the forward momentum and purpose in the piece, even once the violin enters its more fractured and sporadic passages. The First is so often a thin, jarring experience on recordings, but Jansen imbues her playing with body and authority, energy and passion. That sense of structure and shape carries over into what is so often the ‘difficult’ Second Movement, Jansen anchoring the spiky, meandering solo part, before combining perfectly with the orchestra to bring sense and shape to the increasingly ethereal Third Movement in its passage from rhythmically insistent and prosaic, through frenetic to quiveringly longing. This is a musical and emotional tour de force, successful perhaps because it inhabits a more romantic and hopeful landscape than the Sibelius. But whatever the reason, this recording has vaulted not just to the top of my preferred Prokofiev violin concertos, it’s moved the First significantly up the overall pecking order – and when a recording can do that, you know it’s doing something very right indeed.