Nigel Kennedy – Brahms – Violin Concerto (1991)

FrontCover1Nigel Kennedy (born 28 December 1956) is an English violinist and violist.

His early career was primarily spent performing classical music, and he has since expanded into jazz, klezmer, and other music genres.

Kennedy’s grandfather was Lauri Kennedy, principal cellist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra,[1] and his grandmother was Dorothy Kennedy, a pianist. Lauri and Dorothy Kennedy were Australian, while their son, the cellist John Kennedy, was born in England. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, at age 22, John joined the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, later becoming the principal cellist of Sir Thomas Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. While in England, John developed a relationship with an English pianist, Scylla Stoner, with whom he eventually toured in 1952 as part of the Llewellyn-Kennedy Piano Trio (with the violinist Ernest Llewellyn; Stoner was billed as “Scylla Kennedy” after she and John married). But they ultimately divorced, and John returned to Australia.

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Kennedy was born in Brighton. A boy prodigy, as a 10-year-old he picked out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather’s jazz records.[3] At the age of 7, he became a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music.[4] He later studied at the Juilliard School in New York City with Dorothy DeLay. While there he helped to pay for his studies by busking with fellow student and cellist Thomas Demenga.

Kennedy has about 30 close relatives in Australia, whom he visits whenever he tours there. (wikipedia)

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And here´s his 16th album:

Cards on the table: I don’t greatly care how Nigel Kennedy chooses to present himself, either on the concert platform or on his record covers, provided he plays musically. I remember his reading of the Berg Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra last year, when he appeared looking like a misplaced extra for the Rocky Horror Show—and delivered a very creditable performance. Nor does the discovery that this disc bears the UK number NIGE3 send my blood-pressure soaring. That Kennedy’s name should be set in larger, bolder type than that of the composer on the front of the booklet (and on the disc) is a minor irritation, but anyone who is hoping that this review will turn into an extended rebuke Nigel Kennedy03for frivolity before the throne of high art is going to be disappointed.
So too, I have to say, are those who are hoping for a critical rave. Technically Kennedy’s playing as represented on this disc is beyond reproach—anyone who can play the finale’s flying thirds and sixths with such dash and precision plainly knows how to get what he wants out of the instrument. The performance is, as you would expect, highly idiosyncratic, though fortunately there’s nothing to match the controversial stylistic excursions of his Four Seasons (EMI, 11/89). Kennedy supplies his own cadenza for the first movement, but restricts himself to material already heard, and the working-out contains no big surprises—though I admit I expected something a little flashier.
But while there are no shocks, there are passages which require some indulgence. It isn’t just the very slow tempo of the first movement that bothers me—Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic put up a very good case for it—but the way that in places where the orchestral contribution becomes less obviously important, Kennedy seems inclined to treat the movement as a kind of colossal accompanied cadenza. He pulls the tempo about pretty freely, and brings his full resources of colour and expression to bear in a way that can yield beautiful passing details but more often saps passages of any sense of forward movement. Perhaps the most striking example comes in the coda. Many other violinists have taken Brahms’s tranquillo to imply a broadening out, but in his concern to wring the juices from every note, Kennedy brings the music near to stasis. Two other young players, Xue-Wei on ASV (see below) and Anne-Sophie Mutter on DG, are both fairly expansive here, but in both versions what really holds the attention is the way the high-soaring violin line seems to emerge in a single flight—it makes you want to hold your breath until the D major resolution at the animato. Hold your breath for Kennedy and you risk suffocation.

Booklet04AAfter this very slow first movement, the equally expansive Adagio (Kennedy takes two minutes longer than Xue-Wei, who isn’t exactly pacey himself) sounds dangerously close to more of the same. Nevertheless, there’s a stronger sense of shape and flow, and Kennedy’s plaintive soliloquizing can be effective. His direct, passionate manner in the F sharp minor central episode is quite stirring. I have to say though that there’s still a great deal here that I find over-coloured or over-characterized. Again, both Xue-Wei and Anne-Sophie Mutter present an ardent, young person’s view of this music, but they also manage to make of it something dramatically tauter. My ideal here—and in that wonderful first movement coda—is Oistrakh: less inclined to wear his heart on his sleeve, but leaving one in absolutely no doubt that he has one. Any of his three currently available versions (with Konwitschny for DG, Klemperer for EMI and Kondrashin for Le Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) will show how restraint and expressive power can be a deadly combination. All the same there’s more than one way of approaching this music, and both Xue-Wei and Mutter show that you can be generous without giving too much away. Kennedy, for all his evident conviction, often weakens his expressive effects by working too hard at them.

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In the finale Kennedy comes rather closer to his two young rivals. There’s brilliance, zest and—at last—real drive. But while Xue-Wei doesn’t sound quite as polished, and the ASV recording is less pleasing, his is the performance that seems to take the risks—and to bring them off. In fact, the ASV disc feels more like a performance: not without its rough edges, but genuinely alive, and the coupling adds greatly to the appeal. Mutter’s disc is even shorter than Kennedy’s (a mere 40’13”), and again the sound falls short of the EMI refinement, but musically it’s better value. Having just listened to the Kennedy again for the fourth time, I’m more convinced than ever that what it lacks most of all is what Xue-Wei, Mutter and Oistrakh all—in their different ways—embody triumphantly. For want of a better expression, I’d call it a sense of wholeness. Kennedy’s recording has its good things, particularly in the second and third movements, but the feeling grows with each successive hearing that the overall impression is significantly less than the sum of the parts.’ (by Stephen Johnson)

BackCover1

Personnel:
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
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The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Klaus Tennstedt

Personnel

Tracklist:
01. Allegro non troppo 26.12
02. Adagio 11.18
03. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace 9.16

Music composed by Johannes Brahms

CD1

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Liner Notes

More from Nigel Kennedy:
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