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Aged just 23, the Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang is already a seasoned performer, having made her orchestral debut at the tender age of 10. She's clearly an intelligent and innately musical one, too, bucking the fashion for rushing headlong into the recording studio by delaying her debut on disc - and what a debut it is - until now.
Pairings of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto with Sibelius' only concerto are curiously few and far between. The most recent was Ilya Gringolts' rather uneven pairing in 2004 with Neeme Jarvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony on Deutsche Grammophon, with the final trio of Sibelius's six Humoresques as an attractive filler. Frang echoes that choice but opts for Nos. 1, 2 and 5 instead.
Ushering in the Sibelius with a sweetly tremulous whisper, Frang heralds one of the freshest and most vital accounts of this familiar and frequently recorded work in recent years. On display from the off is a vivid sense of intellectual drive and emotional sinew in playing that taps into Scandinavian melancholy and suppressed passion to genuinely engaging effect. Particularly appealing is the hair's-breadth balance she achieves between hushed introspection and out-and-out drama in a performance characterised by strikingly etched detail and a virtuosic flair that delivers one richly expressive solution after another to the music's many technical challenges.
The boldly contrasted dynamic range of the brooding first movement is beautifully reinforced in what follows. It perfectly inks in and matches the emotional ebb and flow, the Adagio is effusively romantic and sublimely tender in equal measure, the finale driven along with winning gusto.
The Prokofiev - in which soloist and orchestra are virtual equals - is no less vividly realised, Frang capturing its big-boned, muscular lyricism, animated whimsy and romantic abandon with deceptive ease and a maturity that makes one eager to hear more from this fine player. As with the Sibelius, the WDR Symphony Orchestra under conductor Thomas Søndergard accompany with consummate, wholly reciprocal incisiveness in what is clearly a meeting of musical minds.
The Humoresque selections, delightfully knowing encores for impressive performances, are dispatched with a bewitching lightness of touch, caught in perfectly framed, beautifully balanced sound.