First published in the Guardian on 21 April, 2016
Bartok: Violin Concerto no 2, Concerto for Orchestra
Dumay/Nagano/Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Onyx)
There’s a thing that some classical musicians do when they see a folk tune and French violinist Augustin Dumay does it here. Bartok marked the opening of his Second Violin Concerto “tempo di verbunkos”, which refers to a fiery Hungarian gypsy dance. The music needs big spirit, absolutely, but it doesn’t need to shout, and what I missed from this performance was a sense of mystique and storytelling and swing. As if a gypsy singer would only declaim her song in capital letters: there’s loads of swarthy vibrato in Dumay’s solo lines, but that sounds at odds with the rather placid backdrop set up by Kent Nagano — I wanted instant enchantment from those dispassionate harps at the start. The Concerto for Orchestra gets an upright and straight-ahead performance flecked with the string suppleness and woodwind finesse of mighty Montreal recordings of yore. Incidentally, Emmanuel Krivine and the Luxembourg Phil released the same Bartok pairing last year with less orchestral heft but more personality.