Brahms Violin Concerto - International Record Review

There's certainly no shortage of excellent recordings of the Brahms Violin Concerto, but this new disc is welcome on several counts. First, Joseph Swensen is an expressive player who draws a lovely sound from the 1715 Stradivarius used here; second, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is an orchestra that is similar to the size of ensemble for which Brahms often wrote (though the Violin Concerto was first performed by the rather larger Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra); third, the couplings are unusual but entirely apt; and fourth, the sound on this fully compatible SACD, recorded in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, is extremely good - warm and transparent. So this is a lucid, exciting and beautifully recorded performance of the Concerto which is well worth hearing. The coupling is another unusual feature: 14 of Brahms's Hungarian Dances, several of them orchestrated by Brahms himself (Nos. 1, 3 and 10) and Dvorák (Nos. 17 - 21). All receive animated and well-characterized performances by the SCO under Swensen.

The result is a disc that gives a great deal of pleasure, and as such it can be recommended to anyone seeking a lean, athletic approach to one of the great violin concertos, imaginatively coupled. Brahms's orchestral textures have much more air around them here than is often the case, and the result is genuinely refreshing. Of course, this is a concerto that has been recorded , often more than once, by some of the greatest violinists of the past 100 years, including sublime accounts by Fritz Kreisler with John Barbirolli, Nathan Milstein and William Steinberg, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Herbert von Karajan, and a long and distinguished list of others. But Swensen's reading with the SCO is most unusual in employing small orchestral forces and it therefore merits a rather individual place in the work's large discography. I could not recommend it over any of the recordings mentioned above but will happily keep it alongside them - Swensen is a player of real distinction, and this new performance lets us hear Brahms's orchestral writing with a rare clarity too. Highly enjoyable.

International Record Review
05 July 2004