ADÈS: Violin Concerto "Concentric Paths" (2005). SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto, op. 47. Three Humoresques, opp. 87/89.
Augustin Hadelich (violin); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu.
Avié AV2276 TT: 60:50

Great rep. Problems in performance and sound. Augustin Hadelich has come to notice as a young violinist of rare technique and gorgeous tone, as well as a taste for exploring contemporary or at least postwar music. Here he takes on a classic and a newish work. I'm not fit to speak on technique, since I have no idea how string players, even bad ones, do what they do, but I can confirm Hadelich sounds great. The question remains whether you want this disk, since every major violinist in the world has recorded the Sibelius and the Adès won't sit well with many listeners.

I'll tackle the Adès first. I like and listen to more contemporary music (as well as "hard modernism") than most. Adès currently enjoys a high reputation in Britain, but the British tend to treat their composers well. On the other hand, I sometimes don't see the point to an Adès work, usually because those pieces sound "unpleasant" and joyless, reminding me of a gray, cloudy day in Cleveland. However, he also has written works I greatly admire, which means I have no real fix on his musical personality. The Violin Concerto stands as one of Adès's best. The composer subtitles it "Concentric Paths," but don't worry if you don't get the reference in the music, because it's the music that counts. Within a generally Modern idiom (if you have no problems with Britten, you will likely enjoy this), it nevertheless shows a highly original and poetic approach to form. In three movements -- "Rings," "Paths," and "Rounds" -- it brims with musical approximations of and references to cycles and circles. "Rings," for example, is all swirls and skirls, as the solo violin soars at the extreme of its upper extreme register, higher than I believe I've ever heard and at speed. The movement reminds me a little of van Gogh's "Starry Night" in its energy.
More than twice as long as both of the others together, the second movement strikes me as the most remarkable and indeed some of the very finest music I've heard from Adès. It seems based on the chaconne, like the finale of the Brahms Fourth. A chaconne puts variations against a repeating harmonic progression. Adès puts a spin on it, because the harmonic progression doesn't end up where it began, thus creating modulation and, in a way, "concentric paths" of music. However, this counts less than the solemnity of the music itself. It aims for something like Bach's chaconne for solo violin and, in my opinion, succeeds.
The finale dances to Middle Eastern and jazzy beats in a rondo-like form. A rondo takes an idea and alternates it with contrasting ideas -- usually A B A C A etc. -- so again we have the idea of cycles or "concentricities." The music satisfies both our need for virtuosity as well as the slam-bang ending of a virtuoso concerto. Many have called the Adès concerto one of the recent major essays in the genre. Of what I've heard, it seems like a fair judgement. Hadelich amazes, but the engineers do him in, particularly in the first movement, where they can't sort out balance problems and drown him out. Also, the harsh recorded sound tires the ears.

You have lots of choices for the Sibelius concerto, of course. A connoisseur of violinists might well want this one. Hadelich's technique lies beyond complaint. For me, however, a concerto implies a partnership among soloist, orchestra, and conductor. Playing perfection doesn't interest me as much as an individual, necessary insight into the score. My favorites come with Heifetz (a classic), Viktoria Mullova, Hilary Hahn, and above all Ginette Neveu. Neveu plays with an intensity that burns into the wood. Don't get me wrong. Lots of other soloists do well in the Sibelius, but these four give me something special. Hadelich and Lintu hang around the OK Corral. There's nothing wrong with it technically, and the recorded sound improves upon the Adès. However, the soloist and the orchestra never seem to mesh interpretively. Moments when they should reinforce one another simply pass without impact. It's as if they walk separate, unrelated paths.
Hadelich performs three of the six Sibelius Humoresques wonderfully well. They sparkle. Why, however, on a 60-minute program they couldn't have done all six lies beyond me. Consequently, this strikes me as a disc for violinist fans, rather than for general listeners.

S.G.S. (March 2022)