Nigel Kennedy is one of the most genuinely inspired artists of our age, and he has always remained so, despite periodic posturings and some ropy stylistic experimentation. He brings gorgeously expressive tone, instinctive insight and now maturity – compare Joshua Bell – that penetrates below the surface allure to what a composer’s notes and textures really indicate. He remains, without any doubt, one of the all-time greats: given his additional bite, some might even aver him the Heifetz of his era.
Heifetz would have relished this repertoire. Emil Mlynarski (1870–1935) was one of last century’s supreme conductors, the intimate of Rubinstein, Szymanowski and Karlowicz, whose Violin Concerto is now recognised as one of the most lyrical outpourings of the genre.
A violin pupil of Leopold Auer, Mlynarski was no dabbler in composition. To his forceful concerto Kennedy brings a marked tenderness without any saccharine succulence. He is positively gleaming in the opening Allegro’s impassioned cadenza, and in the nocturnal Andante’s exploratory questionings, where the famed Polish orchestra under the admirable Jacek Kaspszyk beautifully matches Kennedy’s sensitive gradations of dynamic: the soloist’s harmonic-tinged second half is mesmerising.
Performances of Karlowicz’s youthful concerto are slowly blossoming on disc (including one on Hyperion); but the playing of the central Romanza is unlikely to find a nobler, purer exponent than Kennedy in this masterly reading – or a soloist who brings greater rhythmic assurance to Karlowicz’s beautiful long line. The finale is brilliant from start to finish, as Kennedy’s passion for this music simply pours out. The first Chopin nocturne is utterly magical, the second charming. EMI’s sound is to die for.