Two great 20th-century works are united on a powerful new disc from Accentus: Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor and Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted with cogent high energy by Thomas Sanderling, with Chinese violinist Zhi-Jong Wang as a supple, poetic soloist. She creates an ideal mix of shadow and light, hush and fortissimo strength in the Sibelius, with agile and sensitive accompaniment from the Philharmonia. In contrast the sharp angles and clarity of the Stravinsky suit her iron-strong technique and virtuosity equally well, matched by crisp, nimbly rhythmic playing from the orchestra. A solo work, Drama: Beijing Opera by Lu Pei (b1956), is a rewarding bonus.
If we’re talking string virtuosity, Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op 1 (1802-17) sort the violinist wheat from the digitally compromised chaff: quadruple double-stopping, flying staccato, double trills, huge stretches, the stuff of nightmares. It’s small comfort to know that Paganini himself, the first celebrity violinist, flattened his bridge a little to help his cross-string playing. Roman Simovic, a top soloist but also familiar as leader of the London Symphony Orchestra (this two-disc set is on the LSO label), shows the astonishing variety of these works which, as Tully Potter’s programme note points out, not only imitate bagpipes, brass, flutes and other instruments but in some cases have a song-like, almost operatic quality. Best taken in small doses, but breathtakingly worthwhile.