A strikingly urgent reading sets this new Britten concerto apart

Isabelle Faust, Boris Faust: Britten

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: A strikingly urgent reading sets this new Britten concerto apart

Musicians: Isabelle Faust (violin) Boris Faust (viola) Alexander Melnikov (piano) Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jakub Hruša

Works: Britten: Violin Concerto Two Pieces for violin, viola and piano; Reveille for violin and piano; Suite for violin and piano;

Catalogue number: HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902668

There is an immediate sense of momentum and purpose in Isabelle Faust’s performance of Britten’s Violin Concerto – making it sound martial in the way she bites into the strings, always pressing onwards. The subsequent espressivo e rubato passage is languid and sultry. Later, her adoption of the opening timpani motif is gritty against the dreamy playing of the orchestra. In the second-movement Vivace she uses a dry, picky spiccato and rasping down-bows digging into the strings, with rich vibrato allied to her vehement playing; the contrasting central section has a slinky exoticism, and she gives a powerhouse account of the cadenza. After some brass playing of Wagnerian power at the opening of the third-movement, Passacaglia, Faust is variously coquettish and flamboyant, and finally ecstatic. This is a big-boned account of Britten’s concerto, full of drama and colour. There is another new recording of this concerto, by Baiba Skride (reviewed here). Skride is more spacious, although there is little difference in the timings; both are worth hearing.

Faust is joined by pianist Alexander Melnikov for Britten’s Suite, played by both of them with character and finesse. She demonstrates unassuming technical command in Reveille, and she and her brother Boris play the Two Pieces with a sensitive regard for its melodic twists and turns. The recording is warm and well balanced.