After a great deal of thought, I’m going to broadcast Nigel Kennedy’s recording of the Sibelius violin concerto. (Most likely, April 5 at about 7 a.m.) Those of you who are familiar with this concerto will quickly realize that the performance is original, special, and quite different from most other recordings. I can encapsulate, and explain that Kennedy has attempted to play this music more romantically than anyone else. To understand how I feel about this, please imagine that Nigel Kennedy will hold the record for playing the Sibelius most romantically, until someone outdoes him at it. And that virtuoso might eventually suffer the same fate. We are on a slippery road here, and it’s possible that this recording is the one that has slipped.
There’s also good news about this recording, and that’s why I’m playing it. Most important, a violinist cannot get away with this sort of interpretation without a sympathetic conductor who can keep the orchestra right on top of the most romantic passages. Simon Rattle does everything he can to achieve Kennedy’s vision, and the good old Birmingham Orchestra responds to Rattle extremely well, as usual.
Also, one cannot look down one’s nose at all of Kennedy’s interpretation. Some of it is awesomely beautiful.
I can’t help wondering whether this performance has strayed far from Sibelius’ own conception of the work. Remember what Sibelius said (apparently comparing himself to several of his contemporaries): While other composers are manufacturing cocktails of many colors, I am serving up nothing but cold, clear water.