Sebastian Bohren

Sebastian BohrenPhoto: Marco Borggreve
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Sebastian Bohren plays Mendelssohn & Britten

“He certainly is quite astonishing, this young Swiss violinist Sebastian Bohren” (Musik & Theater, 2018). Sebastian Bohren constantly continues on his way – and does it well. He carefully chooses his broad, varied repertoire and masterfully brings it to sound. Whether solo, in a chamber ensemble or with a large orchestra, whether musical rarities or established milestones: his playing arouses the enthusiasm of audiences and critics alike! The last recordings have proved it once again. For example with Shostakovich’s late Violin Sonata Op. 134 in the arrangement for solo violin, string orchestra and percussion by Michail Zinman: here he shows “for this unwieldy late work an astonishing maturity and a creative power that makes listeners sit up and take notice” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2018). The same applies to the first part of his complete recording of Bach’s violin monument of the sonatas and partitas, which he has chosen as his solo debut: “They enchant and fascinate the listener from the first to the last bar: full of esprit, sparkling with spirit, full of warmth and sympathy, charged with tension or filled with deep tranquillity. It goes without saying that Bohren presents these milestones with technical perfection for every violinist. Listening to his playing makes you happy” (Concerti, 2018).
On the new album, Sebastian Bohren now devotes himself to violin concertos by two great composers: one of them is a repertoire piece par excellence, whereas the other, despite the undoubted genius of its creator, is rarely heard. Together with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton, Sebastian Bohren has recorded violin concertos by Felix Mendelssohn and Benjamin Britten; Tchaikovsky’s graceful Sérénade mélancolique completes the program.

NO-TE: What lies behind this unconventional programming?

BOHREN: My basic idea was the following: We have a soloist from the ‘German’ violin tradition and a British orchestra. I also wanted to illustrate this with the works. The Mendelssohn-concerto further documents my work on the German composers (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Hartmann, and next Mozart). Britten’s violin concerto, the masterpiece of a 27-year-old, is the most important violin concerto in the English tradition, along with Elgar’s concerto. Funnily enough, this combination has never been made before, although in my opinion it goes very well – instrumentation and tonal language of both composers are related in certain aspects. Some details have not escaped me either, of course: For example, both concerts begin directly with the use of the solo violin, which spins a melody, quickly increases in pitch and, after a mini cadenza, transfers to the tutti – Britten has certainly copied this from Mendelssohn!

NO-TE: What distinguishes the concerts?

BOHREN: Mendelssohn’s concerto brought some innovations: For example, the violin does not wait for the orchestral exposition, but intervenes immediately. The cadenza is not at the end of the 1st movement, but in the middle! Britten has adopted some of this, but he was also inspired by other violin concertos: as a reference to Beethoven’s concerto, he begins with the timpani (which Hindemith also did in the 20th century). In addition, the 1st movement leads directly into a fast movement instead of a slow one as is traditional. In contrast, the finale, after a virtuoso cadenza, is the slow passacaglia, the heart of the work.

NO-TE: How was your approach to the concerts?

BOHREN: All three works are matters of the heart to me. I can’t say whether they are technically challenging. For Britten’s violin concerto I was so inspired by the recording of Ida Haendel, her uniquely expressive tone! I have tried to do justice to the work from the lyrical side. With Mendelssohn, I prefer a more ‘classical’ approach. The orchestra and conductor Andrew Litton played it more ‘romantically’, and it wasn’t particularly difficult for me to adapt!

NO-TE: What was the collaboration with Andrew Litton and the orchestra like?

BOHREN: Very positive! The orchestra plays at a very, very high level and conductor Andrew Litton has an incredible amount of experience with CD recordings. For me it was a willing combination to work with such an experienced conductor. And I was very lucky with my companions and partners.