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Review Daniel Hope

Still only 29 years old, violinist Daniel Hope is the youngest member to join the Beaux Art Trio since its founding in 1955. That is not to say, however, that he is merely dealing with chamber music. He has an impressive vitae, incuding a career as a soloist. Hope has continually dedicated himself to the music of the 20th century and that of contemporary composers and a result of this can be heard on his most recent release covering the violin concertos by Berg and Britten. It wasn’t long before he received the award of German record critics for this CD. A fully justified reward, too, since this CD not only shows Hope as a master of his trade, but a man who has something to say as well.

Hope’s tone has a natural sweetness and lyrical quality to it, but he is not shying away from brisk bowing in more virtuoso passages. Whatever the circumstances might be, his tone remains warm and broad. You can immediately hear this in his Berg. The sweet, warm sound is especially well suited to the subtitle of Bergs violin concerto: In memory of an angel (a reference to Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler, who died at the age of 18). Hereby, Hope manages to create an almost romantic ambiance in this rather modern piece. As a way of contrast, though, he knows exactly how to deal firmly with the long virtuoso passages. In these, he is not afraid to let himself go and consequently hits some vigorous and rough tones. However, his accuracy always insures him hitting each note cleanly and precise. The difficult virtuoso parts are apparently no problem either. There don’t seem to be any technical limitations for this chap. Britten’s violin concerto is a good deal more tonal and less modern than Berg’s, even though it was actually written later in time. The timpani passage at the beginning of the piece is a clear reference to Beethoven’s violin concerto. Britten’s favour for traditonal composers and forms becomes especially apparent in the outer movements. The first movement is romantically energised and the last movement is a passacaglia. The middle part reminds one of Shostakovitch when it comes to tonality and of Stravinsky and Bartók when it comes to rhythmical expression. Despite these influences, Britten manages to create his distinctly own and new world, without wasting too much time on progress. This concerto receives another forceful and energetic interpretation by Hope. One can’t hide the feeling that he actually seems to feel more at home here than with Berg. The romanticism of the first movement is incredibly pleasant and pleasing, while the second movement is played with an excellent feel of rhythm. The beautifully raw playing creates a sharply edged rhythm, which results in a grand cadence.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra supports Hope well. It might not be the best orchestra in the world and it certainly isn’t the most remarkable when it comes to defining a distinctive sound, but it is definitely right in between the upper middle class. Strings sound beautiful and wide, but the brass might have deserved just a little rounder sound. Especially the brighter brass instruments tend to be somewhat hard and rough. Conductor Paul Watkins, who is a young musician as well, takes care of business in a fairly business-like manner, but this approach suits these two concertos just fine. Which means: The romantic moments are not overly romantic and the expressionistic passages are clear, well-shaped and-defined.

The recording sounds good with a finely balanced orchestra. Strings are clearly in the front of the ensemble and sound wide. Wood winds and brass are transparently placed inbetween them and can easily be followed. The balance between the orchestra and Hope is generally fine. He is clearly placed in front of the musicians but sometimes appears just a little too direct, which creates the feeling of the solo violin playing in another space than the orchestra. These are only minor points, however. Overall, this CD scores high marks when it comes to music as well as production. The microphones managed not only to capture Hope’s warm instrument, but the musicality he puts into his playing as well. And that is what matters in the end.

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