A winning mix of concertos that sets the feet a-tapping

Benjamin Schmid: Jazz Violin Concertos

The Strad Issue: November 2023

Description: A winning mix of concertos that sets the feet a-tapping

Musicians: Orchestra Musica Vitae/Benjamin Schmid (violin)

Works: Berger: Metropoles Suite. Gulda: Wings. Hank: Three Songs for an Abandoned Angel

Catalogue number: GRAMOLA 99284

While it’s fairly self-evident to say that your enjoyment of Benjamin Schmid’s collection of three jazz-inspired violin concertos by Austrian composers will ultimately depend on your liking for jazz, there’s plenty here to entertain non-aficionados. The three works occupy gratifyingly contrasting styles: while Herbert Berger’s somewhat indistinctive Metropoles Suite can occasionally sound like a bland film score, Friedrich Gulda’s acerbic Wings collides together Tzigane-style excess and 1970s funk to thoroughly satisfying effect, and Sabina Hank offers a far more contemporary-sounding mix of minimalism, jazz and even a touch of trad.

Schmid himself is a compelling presence throughout, entirely convincing in the idiom’s swooping portamentos and other inflections, and a persuasive improviser too: he’s sultry and sensuous among Gulda’s dark-toned lines, and gloriously over-the-top in some of Hank’s more flamboyant writing. Swedish string ensemble Musica Vitae, of which Schmid is artistic director, brings boundless character and commitment to the performances, but the recording raises some issues of balance: Schmid is sometimes simply submerged within the ensemble’s fulsome sound, and the close recording strangely captures unscored extraneous noises such as bow scrapes and unidentifiable clicks. That said, you do feel as if you’re right there with the players, swept up in the energy of the music.

David Kettle