Beauty and drama combine to create compelling performances

Baibe Skride, Ivan Vukčević: Britten

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: Beauty and drama combine to create compelling performances

Musicians: Baiba Skride (violin) Ivan Vukčević (viola) ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop

Works: Britten: Violin Concerto; Double Concerto for violin and viola

Catalogue number: ORFEO C220021

Baiba Skride opens Britten’s Violin Concerto with melting beauty, before opening out into passion and ferocity. Calm heralds the return of the opening, and the double-stops that end the movement are delicate and questioning. Skride plays the demonic second-movement Vivace with crispness and propulsive energy. The contrasting central section is seductive, its coiling phrases subtly unfolding. The cadenza is neatly structured – it is a tale well told. Marin Alsop and the orchestra pace the opening of the third-movement Passacaglia with steady majesty and there’s some fine trumpet playing. Skride offers some capricious touches, dancing delectably through the con moto, and produces muscular anguish high on the G string in the final pages. Throughout the concerto, Skride and Alsop give the music room to breathe.

Britten wrote his Double Concerto in 1932, when he was 18. He didn’t produce a full score, but the sketches are unusually detailed. After a heroic horn solo over tremolo strings the violist Ivan Vukčević appears in close-up, vehement, declamatory, with Skride in hot pursuit. There are spiky quaver passages to come. In the second-movement Rhapsody the soloists play discursive, wide-ranging soliloquies and produce gleeful rhythmic energy and lyricism in the finale. The recording is close and clear.