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Five New Violin Recordings to Get Excited About This Spring

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Fifty years ago, most violin soloists fit a certain profile -- that of men whose style and temperament were firmly rooted in European and Russian pedagogical traditions. They included names like Isaac Stern, David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz and Zino Francescatti. Today, a very different crop of virtuoso fiddlers dominates international stages and record label catalogs. The spiritual offspring of Anne-Sophie Mutter, they are, on the whole, female, ultra-virtuosic, career-focused and glamorous looking besides.

A skeptic may note the over-emphasis on “violin babes” at major labels these days – that is, until they listen to the performances themselves. Below, you'll find a guide to five standout recordings.

Julia Fischer, violin
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo; Yakov Kreizberg, conductor
Available at

The subject of two WQXR Featured Albums, Julia Fischer has recorded much of the standard violin repertoire through her contracts with Decca and the small Dutch label Pentatone. With “Poème” the 27-year-old brings together four post-Romantic pieces for violin and orchestra that depart from standard concerto model: Chausson's Poème, Respighi's Poema Autunnale, Suk's Fantasy in D Minor and Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending. Each of these pieces are extremely lush, fanciful and bucolic in character and adding to their poignancy is the fact that this is the final recording of Yakov Kreizberg, a popular conductor who died in March at age 51.

Jennifer Frautschi, violin and Jeremy Denk, piano
Music Of Igor Stravinsky Vol 12
Twentieth Century Ensemble, Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Craft
Available at

The Juilliard-trained, Boston-based Jennifer Frautschi has built a particular specialty in underappreciated works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg and other early-20th century masters. Together with pianist Jeremy Denk she defies the idea of Stravinsky as a cold composer, finding radiant intensity in the neoclassical Duo Concertant. This was a work Stravinsky wrote for himself to play with the violinist Samuel Dushkin and it has also been a staple of ballet programs. The rest of the album, led by former Stravinsky collaborator and conductor Robert Shaw, juxtaposes Stravinsky in his neo-classical and serial modes.

Lisa Batiashvili
Echoes of Time
Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Available at

The impressive 32-year-old violinist from Tblisi, Georgia offers a thoughtful program of Eastern European music. The highlights are a formidable rendition of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Georgian composer Giya Kancheli's eerie, contemplative V & V for violin, taped voice and orchestra. Other tracks include Arvo Pärt's mystically spare Spiegel im Spiegel, a Shostakovich waltz and Rachmaninoff's ubiquitous but sensitively played Vocalise. [Read a recent interview with Batiashvili.]

Tianwa Yang, violin
Sarasate: Music for Violin and Orchestra Vol. 3
Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra
Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, conductor
Available at

The 24-year-old Tianwa Yang was raised in Beijing, trained in Germany and brought to the U.S. for lessons with the great Isaac Stern. But her own tastes are rooted in the musical culture of Spain. Of her already sizable discography, five of eight releases feature music by Pablo de Sarasate, the 19th-century Spanish virtuoso who studied at the Paris Conservatoire. To those who think Sarasate’s music is lightweight froth think again: Yang brings a subtle and stylish fluidity to pieces like the Concert Fantasy on Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, the Fantasie on Gounod’s Faust and the Muiñeiras, a 6/8 Galician dance reminiscent of an Irish jig.

Rachel Barton Pine
Glazunov Concertos
José Serebrier, Russian National Orchestra
Warner Classics
Available at

The Chicago-based Rachel Barton Pine doesn’t quite fit the mold of some of the other violinists in this roundup. A roaming spirit with a tendency to embrace many different musical passions, her expertise runs from Bach to Celtic music to contemporary black composers to even heavy metal. Together with Jose Serebrier and the Russian National Orchestra she gives a rendition of the Glazunov Violin Concerto that is both ravishing and nimble, navigating every fluctuation in tempo and mood. Also included on this 2-CD set are Glazunov’s concertos for piano, cello, saxophone and French horn.