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 Recording of the Week  Nigel Kennedy

Undoubtedly one of the greatest violinists ever to grace this planet, Nigel Kennedy has managed to divide the music loving world into two camps – for or against. It appears that his popular appeal (achieved largely by his carefully maintained loutish persona) has resulted in many so called ‘serious’ classical music lovers dismissing his very genuine natural ability.

Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy

He is probably best known for his recording of the Vivaldi Four Seasons which he first recorded in 1989. It went on to sell over 2 million copies and earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the then best-selling classical work of all time. The album remained top of the UK classical charts for over a year with sales equivalent to one copy sold every 30 seconds of every day.

After recording most of the major violin concerti he then took a controversial and highly publicised decision to withdraw completely from public performance. This lasted about five years but he made a triumphant return and since then has split his time between mainstream classical and jazz/world influenced performances and recordings.

His new recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto coupled with the Mozart 4th Concerto shows that he is still one of the world’s leading exponents of the instrument. He first recorded the Beethoven Concerto 15 years ago under Klaus Tennstedt in a lush romantic interpretation. His new recoding is more rhythmically driven and playful but still beautiful and lyrical. And although the opening bars suggest a swifter and cleaner approach, he still slows down for the second subject and his Larghetto is similarly ravishing and soulful.

The Mozart on the other hand I have a major problem with – and that is mainly in the form of the cadenzas. I have no problem with instrumentalists improvising their own cadenzas (although they rarely do these days) providing they fit with the character of the piece. Here, Kennedy switches to electric violin and is accompanied by a double bass in some dreamy world/jazzy insertions. Kennedy claims this expresses what the concerto means to him and that he wants to ‘open listeners minds’. To me it simply doesn’t work. We’ve put a video up on the site though so you can see if he can convince you! Luckily the Beethoven is good enough to justify the disc price alone.

BBC Music Magazine Awards 2008

One other thing I should mention is that the BBC Music Magazine 2008 Awards were announced last week with Mitsuko Uchida's recording of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos. 28 and 29 claiming the overall disc of the year. You can view full details of all the winners here.

Kennedy plays Beethoven & Mozart Violin Concertos

Nigel Kennedy (violin & direction), Polish Chamber Orchestra

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC