Recording of the Week,
Johan Dalene performs violin concertos by Nielsen & Sibelius
The young Swedish violinist Johan Dalene has been a consistently accomplished voice ever since his debut recording two years ago of concertos by Barber and Tchaikovsky, which was followed up last year by a more intimate but no less spellbinding collection of Nordic music for violin and piano. For his third album he returns to the orchestral world with a magnificent coupling of the concertos by Nielsen and Sibelius.
It should come as little surprise that Dalene is so persuasive in the Nielsen concerto, as it was this piece that saw him sail to victory in the 2019 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition. Even so, I'm happy to say that my expectations were more than met. To say that the work is extraordinarily fiendish to put together is something of an understatement: not only is it technically incredibly demanding but also the coordination required between soloist and orchestra is a devilishly tricky thing to pull off successfully. It's a beast of a piece in which to maintain the ensemble, necessitating nerves of steel from both violinist and conductor; full credit should go to John Storgårds (himself a violinist) for ensuring that even in the most precariously intricate sections, the precision of the interplay between Dalene and the players of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra is upheld to a most impressive standard.
Similarly, Dalene seems entirely unfazed by even the most taxing of passages, not least the two extended cadenzas that come towards the end of each movement of the concerto. In both of these he displays not just an absolute mastery of all the double-stopping and dashing up and down the range of the instrument asked of him by Nielsen, but also an exquisite panoply of colours, dramatic one moment and breathtakingly hushed and whispered the next, all with spot-on intonation. This variety of moods occurs throughout the piece, from the beautifully serene G major section near the opening of the work that is imbued with an almost Elgarian nobility, to the Brahmsian swagger of the second part of the first movement.
Equally characterful is the Sibelius concerto, particularly from an orchestral point of view, with a wonderfully earthy viola solo towards the end of the first movement, and expressive support from horns and bassoons underpinning Dalene's tender, quietly impassioned reading of the poignantly affecting slow movement. The third movement is marvellously thrilling, with energy and poise aplenty from Dalene, especially a passage towards the end involving an extended phrase of high harmonics, which in his hands turns into a jaunty kind of whistle, despatched with a great deal of style and panache. The very end of the concerto is satisfyingly done, full of grandeur but always with an eye on the finish line. Again Storgårds deserves special mention here: he manages the exemplary feat of imbuing the closing moments with sufficient weight but without ever allowing proceedings to grind to a halt.
As in the Nielsen, Dalene's passagework is immaculate, and the sense of collaboration between him and the orchestra is palpable: there are moments throughout the piece where they collectively catch their breath together that are extremely well executed. As beguiling a performance as the Sibelius is, however, I think it's the Nielsen that is the star of the show, with a splendidly authoritative reading backed up by outstanding orchestral support.