Prokofiev – Concerto for Violin No. 1, op. 19
Chausson – Poème, op. 25
Rautavaara – Deux Sérénades
Hilary Hahn, Mikko Franck, Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France.
DGG 483 9848 (2x 45RPM, 180g LP)
By Roy Gregory
Interesting records from Deutsche Grammaphon are becoming quite the norm. Mutter’s recent recordings of the Brahms Double and Beethoven Triple Concertos have both been interesting musical performances with much to say. The Triple reunites A-SM with Yo-Yo Ma over four decades (!) after their first recording of the work, while the Brahms features the precocious brilliance of young Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrández, given full reign by Mutter’s typical generous partnership. Meanwhile, several of Víkingur Ólaffson’s recordings (Debussy-Rameau and Mozart) have been notable for sound quality that matches the brilliance of the playing, while Mari Samuelsen also continues to impress, musically and sonically. In a move that’s far from conservative, DGG even offered the Mozart disc in optional (better sounding) clear vinyl, while Lys (https://gy8.eu/review/lys/) came that way as standard! I did wonder for a moment whether all DGG pressings might take the clear vinyl path, but apparently not – which is a great shame.
Even so, here we have another highly engaging double disc – and this time it’s a reader recommendation (always welcome)! They say that you should never judge a book by its cover – and on this evidence that applies to records too. I passed over this release when it first appeared, not least because of the garish sleeve. Thankfully, my error has been corrected. Coupling Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, with its fiery 2nd flanked by more lyrical, reflective Movements, with the popular and intensely romantic Chausson Poème is a pretty obvious pairing, but throwing in the Rautavaara Sérénades (written for Hahn and recorded here at there World Premiere performance) definitely adds an intriguing artistic twist.
Why Paris? The linkage might not be obvious, but it’s a binding factor for the performers and the works. Chausson’s connection is clear, through his famous 19th Century artistic salon. Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto was premiered in the city. Conductor Mikko Franck has been principle conductor of the Philharmonique de Radio France since 2015, while Hilary Hahn has performed in the city every year since her professional debut, culminating in a residency with the PRF in 2019. Where does the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara fit in?
The Finnish finish…
Franck was both a close friend to and one of his leading exponents. After playing the composer’s Violin Concerto (in Paris, with Franck and the PRF) Hahn commissioned a short encore piece and enquired via Franck whether a second Violin Concerto might be commissioned. By this stage, Rautavaara was over 80 and in declining health. Franck discussed the possibility of a Concerto, or perhaps a set of Serenades, but heard nothing more before the composer died in 2016. However, after the funeral, Franck was presented with a pair of Serenades that the composer had been working on for him and Hahn, the first completely orchestrated, the second, partially orchestrated with a piano sketch of the remainder. The completed pieces were premiered during Hahn’s Paris residency in 2019 and it is that performance that is presented here (although whether it is a live concert recording – with a ghostly quiet audience – or a separate performance is not clear). Either way, the two Serenades that make up the fourth side of this album are as welcome as they are beautiful. For many, the meat of this record will be the Prokofiev, but don’t ignore the lesser-known Rautavaara. The sleeve notes describe it as the emotional heart of the project and that is apparent in both the music and the performance.