Ning Feng on Virtuosismo
The Chinese violinist Ning Feng has never been one to shy away from some of the most technically challenging works in the repertoire – he made his debut on Channel Classics back in 2007 with an all-Paganini album, and followed it up three years later with a recital of virtuoso works for solo violin which included Paganini paraphrases by Nathan Milstein and Alfred Schnittke. For his latest concerto recording (which was one of Katherine’s Editor’s Choices for September), he presents the composer’s First Violin Concerto alongside another work by a nineteenth-century virtuoso-composer, Henri Vieuxtemps, which has been a firm favourite of his since his student days.
Our thanks to our friends at Channel for sharing this discussion with Ning Feng about the lengthy process of mastering these highly demanding concertos, his long-standing relationship with the label, and his reasons for pairing the two works on the new album.
Is this Paganini Concerto considered one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire?
Yes, it's definitely one of the most difficult pieces for the violin – after all, it is Paganini :-) When I was younger I did spend a decent amount of time learning and practising it, and over the years I’ve played it quite often on stage to really get it under my fingers. However, my goal when performing & recording it was not to make it sound technically difficult, but only to bring out the kind of virtuoso brilliance associated with Italian romantic operatic arias.
What are the chances that the ‘e’ string will break during a performance of this piece?
It does happen occasionally, both on-stage and off, but fortunately not too often – I’ve experienced it four times in concert, one of which was during the first movement, so unfortunately the performance had to be interrupted for a short time whilst I replaced the string.
What made you decide to include the Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 4 as the complimentary piece on this album?
I wanted the album to explore the idea of the virtuoso violinist-composer in the Romantic period. Sarasate and Wieniawski both fall into the same category, but unfortunately Sarasate never wrote himself any violin concertos (although there were many dedicated to him), and Wieniawski's concertos are played and recorded more frequently than those by Vieuxtemps. I’d studied his Fourth and Fifth Concertos when I was younger, and loved them! So Vieuxtemps was a clear choice: for me, the second movement of the Fourth Concerto features one of the most beautiful melodies composed during the Romantic period.
You have worked for many years with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias under the direction of Rossen Milanov. How did this collaboration come about and what makes it so special?
This is already my second album with the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias and Maestro Rossen Milanov, and I’ve also played in concerts with them on a number of other occasions. The orchestra is fantastic and Maestro Milanov is a wonderful, experienced and supportive conductor; I really enjoyed the collaboration and hope there will be many more to come.
You have also been working with Channel Classics for many years. How many recordings have you made and how have they supported your success?
I've been working with Channel Classics ever since the beginning of my career, and our recordings together are now in double figures. It's a wonderful recording company to work with - they are a professional and at the same time a very caring team. All the albums that I have done are real milestones for me, and have been a great help to my career.
How do you balance living in Berlin with playing all over the world and still performing regularly in China in particular?
Being a soloist means travelling frequently – it’s just part of the deal. It's exciting to reach the highest status with the airline's mileage programs, but at the same time it can also be lonely and disappointing in many other ways, especially when one has a family with kids. But that's life: we’re all doing our very best to fulfil our duties and trying to find the balance between professional and personal commitments.