“Astonishing levels of majestic virtuosity”
“Startling emotional sincerity and inspired musical imagination”
“Frang's playing was electrifying... Masterly”
“Her virtuosity is second to none”
THE SUNDAY TIMES
KORNGOLD & BRITTEN:
Warner Classics, February 2016
An interview with Vilde Frang: The Norwegian violinist talks about recording two contrasting dramas in the violin repertoire
You’ve said that the Korngold Violin Concerto is like a festive celebration. Is it also Hollywood?
For sure there are Hollywood excerpts in the music; Korngold sneaked in themes from his film scores in all three movements. You can’t avoid that fact, but the piece has sometimes been "downgraded" as movie-music which is unfair; it really stands on its own as a full-blooded violin concerto.
How would you describe your sense of the piece?
This concerto embraces you from the very beginning! It's almost indulgently expressive, the music soars and always reaches for new heights. It makes me fly.
Korngold’s and Britten’s violin concertos were both composed around the Second World War by Europeans who had left their countries for the United States. But they are nonetheless brought together on a single album for the first time. Why were you so keen to record this unusual coupling?
These are both passionate and dramatic works in a 20th-century tonal language, richly orchestrated. Technically they are equally intense, in terms of virtuosity. But they contrast each other beautifully. While Korngold's wallows in oceans of romanticism, Britten has an X-ray clarity structurally and the rhythmic patterns and brilliance in his music always fascinate me. This concerto is much more tragic than Korngold’s. Only in recent years have both works started to appear more frequently in concert halls, especially the Britten, which has not been considered an "audience-friendly" concerto. But for me it’s right up there with, for example, the Shostakovich concertos.
What is it about this concerto that might elude people?
Despite all its braveness, there is a sense of looming anxiety and despair that ends in reflection, not with a flashy, show-off climax. The last movement Passacaglia is like a struggle against death, you can feel that the end is inevitably getting closer. To me it seems that the orchestra is representing the other side, almost religiously – the soothing orchestral chords, the relief of death, the ending of the pain. But the solo violin clings to life until the very end. It is like a swan song.
When performing them live, is the audience reaction different between the two concertos?
Korngold's finale is spectacular and hilarious in a "finita la commedia" sort of way. Britten strikes you inwardly on a far more profound level. Performing it is an experience; a transformation. It always takes a moment of silence to digest and come back to reality.
Since your early twenties you have recorded some of the most demanding repertoire – Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Nielsen, Bartok – was this your biggest challenge in the studio to date?
All my albums have been challenges. It never gets easier from album to album. You always think you'll somehow get used to a recording process, but actually you never do! It's a sort of birth process, you give all you've got. There’s something about the focus and anticipation that makes you the most excited, vulnerable and persistent person.
Out of the Britten and Korngold, is there one concerto that squares more with your personality?
No, they both apply to the whole spectrum of my personality! I find them deeply fulfilling to play. They are crown jewels in the violin repertoire and it has long been my greatest wish to juxtapose them on a recording.