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CD Feature/ Chloe Hanslip: "Benjamin Godard - Violin Concertos"

img  Tobias

Probably by complete coincidence the ideals of Naxos, which long seemed incompatible with the supposed marketing necessities of an artist label, suddenly reveal themselves to be perfectly aligned with some classical artists’ philosophies. Chloe Hanslip’s preference for the exotic, non-adjusted, forgotten, stuffed-away, “difficult” and “daring” certainly makes for a perfect match with a record company which has repeatedly proven snobbish critics’ wrong in their quest to restrict the classical canon to a select club.

With the exception of her first album for Warner Classics, on which both repertoire and cover artwork still relished in the sort of child prodigy fantasies she has by now long left behind, Hanslip has always chosen for headstrong repertoire of the 19th and 20th century, for example extending her personal timescale to John Adams on her previous effort. In that respect, dedicating a CD to Benjamin Godard, who has often been likened to Mendelssohn, at first appears to be a step back.

This is a fallacy for two reasons. Firstly, Godard’s romantic, immediate and uncomplicated style, which places melody first and often reduces the orchestra to an accompanying role or to a provider of timbral impulses, has a distinct proximity with film music and feels cinematic and intimate at the same time. What others have callously called “clumsy”, however, is the result of a clearly realised ideal, of a music which retains its chamber musical spirit and its rapsodic fire, while nurturing symphonic ambitions.

Secondly, Hanslip’s performance proves that it always remains within the responsabilities of the instrumentalist to make a piece come to life. Her bowing is without any cliches, even in places where it could easily make sense for the artist to play cliched. It is an approach which apparently ows more to an emotional analysis of the composer than to historical deductions and which, despite its clear lines, seems to rely on a lot of gut feeling to its own advantage. Hanslip’s personal motto has always been to achieve a balance between the Urtext and her own feelings and she succeeds for 100% in that regard on this disc.

The “Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra” is, of course, a piece ideally suited for her. It places the soloist firmly center-stage, sending her through a plethora of emotional states on the one hand and through extremely closed moods on the “Adagio” and concluding “Allegro” on the other. Each movement has its distinct, recognisable characterstics, with the second part a woozy love theme and the finale infused with a pastoral swing, which anticipates Mahler’s love for folk-motives. It is the way the very first seconds grab your attention with monolithic minor chords and Hanslip’s determined strokes, then flow into rolling string dots and a fluent melodic line which searches for sweetness in a space of despair, that sucks you in right away and never lets go.

The “Concerto Romantique” oscillates between a slightly pompous touch on the one hand and an unspectacular, “small” sound on the other, which may be the reason why some have referred to the material here as “mediocre” and “uninspiring”. Godard, however, simply has a different view on the orchestra. Instead of creating a rich and full panoramic spectrum, he regards it more like a unified instrumentalist, who duets with the violin. After one has come to terms with the consequences of this idiosyncracy, the pieces take on a charming and quite colorful character, which Hanslip supports with a careful and never too exuberant interpretation.

With the exception of the “Violin Concerto No. 2”, this is by no means a legendary re-discovery or an experimental work. But the self-assured handwriting of Godard blends nicely with the confident signature of Chloe Hanslip, who is not only left with a great deal of freedom in these pieces, but also uses it to create an album, which is as much geared towards repertoire as to her personality. Her relationship with Naxos may have begun by chance in some ways, but it looks like the beginning of a great friendship after these two first releases.


By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Chloe Hanslip
Homepage: Naxos Records

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