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album review | classical music

Bartok, ‘Violin Concerto’

BARTOK, Violin Concerto Nos. 1 & 2

Isabelle Faust

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding

(Harmonia Mundi)

Bartok’s first violin concerto, written in the first decade of the 20th century but not published until after his death in 1945, used to be a rarity in concert programs and recordings. But it’s become more popular as performers mine the oeuvres of famous composers for early or “minor” works. It shows a young composer grappling with the late-Romantic idiom of Strauss and Liszt but also has a few hints of the harmonic and sonic adventurism that would define his mature music.

The second is one of the great concertos of the 20th century, uniting formal rigor and soaring melodic writing and blending atonal elements into a tonal frame.

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Faust, a German violinist of grace and intelligence, is never less than very good in the second concerto, though her smooth, lyrical approach misses some of the piece’s grit and edginess. But her playing of the slow movement, a transfixing set of variations, is spellbinding. And her style perfectly suits the first concerto, where she elicits a rhapsodic warmth ideally suited to the piece. The Swedish orchestra plays with an unshowy alertness to each work’s character under the guidance of Daniel Harding.

Faust plays Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Aug. 17. Harding conducts the BSO in music of Turnage and Mahler at Symphony Hall on Oct. 24-26.

DAVID WEININGER

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