By Jonathan Woolf, 2008
This is a disc that serves two invaluable functions. Firstly, rather more prosaically, its volume three in Simax’s Great Norwegian Performers 1945-2000 series. And secondly it stands as a royal salute to the great Camilla Wicks, in this, her eightieth year.
One of the best recent discs devoted to her was issued by Biddulph (see review) but there really can’t be enough. And this is where Simax is proving so invaluable, reminding us of Wicks’s importance as an artist. I have also reviewed an earlier Simax release of her Walton concerto and Bjarne Brustad’s Violin Concerto No. 4.
The Glazunov Concerto and The Lark Ascending derive from the same 1985 concert in which she was accompanied by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Karsten Andersen. It would have been fascinating to have heard her Glazunov in the 1950s when she made her splendid recording of the Sibelius, now on Biddulph, when she was at her most fervent tonally. Her playing with the Bergen orchestra is nevertheless tremendously attractive; unforced, unpressed tempo-wise, taking twenty-one minutes in a work that, say, Heifetz and Milstein tended to dispatch in eighteen to eighteen and a half. This is playing that is subtly tinted and voiced though it can’t be denied that her vibrato has slackened. The highlight is probably the lightly elegant finale. As a footnote don’t be misled by the mis-tracking in the Andante; the return to the tempo primo seems to have confused someone which accounts for a separately tracked cadenza.
The Lark Ascending is not played, as so often by virtuosi, as an opportunity for soupy expression and succulent reserves of vibrato. The recording is quite close and once or twice Wicks’ intonation buckles and we don’t get therefore the ideal sense of space or perspective; as a result the lark is still in close focus as it ascends – no recession skywards.
The single movement from Brahms’ Op.78 sonata is with Robert Levin in 1975. It’s very laid back indeed, lyrical and introspective, not quite embracing torpor, though there are hints of her more fiery Sibelian temperament from time to time. A pity about the lack of the rest – were the other movements recorded?
Then there’s Brustad’s solo violin sonata, written for her, and played here in 1969. Brustad alludes to Bach – to the Chaconne as much as anything else from the Sonatas and Partitas – and crafts a most delightful and freewheeling work. There are plenty of introspective vistas, as well as vigorous folk-like moments too – try the second half of the second movement. With its reach extending from vibrant naturalness and contrapuntal reflection perhaps Brustad has summoned up something of the violinist’s own spirit – elemental yet expressive. As an envoi we go right back to 1950. Once more Levin is on hand to accompany in Sarasate’s Malagueña. She recorded this at around the same time for Columbia with an unnamed accompanist – this and other sides surfaced on the Biddulph CD. This NRK radio broadcast is in better sound and features some fine, teasing rubati and rich tone.
There are some excellent photographs in the concise booklet notes. There must be many more Wicks broadcasts in the NRK archives and this writer cries out for a series sub-division to celebrate her art yet further.