Earlier this month, 18-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti plunged into the mainstream concerto repertoire with a new recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Now, Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has recorded that same masterpiece for her first major concerto album. Janine Jansen is ten years older than Benedetti. That extra decade of life experience intensifies the emotional impact of her performance.
This recording was made in the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and this concerto had its premiere in 1845 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra--the orchestra that Mendelssohn himself conducted. That fact is not lost on Janine Jansen. She was excited to record this piece with Mendelssohn's own orchestra alongside her mentor, conductor Riccardo Chailly. During her years as an impressionable young orchestra member in Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chailly was principal conductor. He introduced her to an extraordinary variety of music.
So why make yet another recording of this warhorse concerto? Jansen explains: Every person is different. That means every interpretation and every emotion will be different each time a piece is performed. Jansen does have something special to offer with her performance. In the first movement, she lures a beautiful singing line from her instrument. She's not afraid to vary the tempo, adding emotional impact by luxuriating through a phrase. The slow movement is a sweet lullaby. At one point, Jansen plays a series of fluttering notes, and the orchestra gently rocks around her, generating a rush of musical waves that part when the simple melody begins to rise.
Through more than 50 years of recording history, Mendelssohn's concerto has regularly been paired with the first violin concerto by Max Bruch. Jansen has been living with that concerto for even longer than the Mendelssohn. She first played it with a youth orchestra after winning a competition in Holland when she was 12 years old. She's been playing it ever since. While the Bruch concerto has a wonderful introduction and an exciting finale, the heart of the piece is its alluring second movement. The violin is the heroine in this adagio, which has the feel of an operatic aria. The orchestra wraps itself warmly around the violin while it sings a passionate love song. Jansen's effective use of dynamics and her ability to match the heartfelt mood complement the composer's eloquent writing.
When she was young, Janine Jansen dreamed of playing the cello. By picking up the viola for Max Bruch's Romance in F Major, she gets a little closer to her dream. The simple orchestration allows the lush quality of the viola's deep register to rise to the top in the Romance. What I appreciate is that Jansen never tries to show off. Rather than relying on technical virtuosity, her goal is to communicate the intimate quality of this rarely heard work for viola and orchestra.
Janine Jansen is a young, talented violinist who takes her music seriously. She clearly loves performing. Her earliest memories from childhood are about singing with her grandfather, who conducted the church choir, and her father who was the church organist. After winning an award that came with a hefty cash prize, she immediately reinvested all of it in lessons with the founder of the Beaux Arts Trio, pianist Menachem Pressler. On this recording with her mentor, Riccardo Chailly, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, she's creating new musical memories with two great Romantic concertos that she fell in love with a long time ago.