Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
John Storgårds, conductor
"A masterly combination of freedom and control."
For my third album I've chosen two of the great Nordic violin concertos.
Carl Nielsen's violin concerto opens with a tumultuous prelude that presents several of the melodic themes, as well as introducing rhythmic elements that recur throughout the concerto. The musical language is at times austere, but also laden with surprises – unexpected harmonies and sudden changes of mood. Here we find pride, joy and an exquisitely beautiful and melancholy slow movement which ends with a question.
Nielsen is often described as being a cheerful, witty and charming person, and indeed there is a lot of humour contained within his music, but it is certainly never superficial. The concerto was somewhat of a struggle for Nielsen to write, and was neither a quick nor easy process. His goal was to create music with substance which would provide a challenge for the soloist, as well as presenting the violin in the best possible light. He succeeded in creating a neoclassical masterpiece with infinite richness of detail.
Sean Sibelius' violin concerto has been a dear companion of mine for many years and it is a Concerto that I've always loved. The piece contains considerable technical demands, evidence that Sibelius was himself a violinist. He uses the possibilities of the violin to its very limit, as well as managing to convey the grandeur of the Scandinavian landscape in an incredibly powerful way.
The first movement starts off in stillness, inspired by the Finnish nature with its silent and cold forests. After the very brief orchestral introduction which offers a sense of mystery and possibility, the solo violin enters on an off-beat G, creating a clashing yet beautiful dissonance with the orchestra.
The music is at times dark, at times exhilarating, although there are also moments, especially in the second movement, that are breathtakingly beautiful and lyrical. The last movement is a violinistic and musical firework. It is rhythmical, wild, virtuosic and full of Finnish "Sisu" and power. The British critic Donald Tovey accurately described this movement as a "Polonaise for polar bears!"
Johan is an Exclusive Recording Artist for BIS Records.
"There is character here at every turn - in momentary appoggiaturas or portamento (unequivocally ironic), in an extraordinary parade of temperaments (Nielsen's lazy layabout pops up as often as his choleric upstart), in the gameplay of the final Rondo scherzando..... And yet, somehow, Dalene always sounds like himself - in his distinctive, delicious and very present savoury tone (never revelled in for its own sake) and in his ability to fix a point on a horizon and play, unhurriedly and with a sense of purity, towards that point. Elsewhere Dalene's highly distinctive phrasing draws attention to all sorts of linked patterns and shapes in the composer's unique syntax while never distorting the line or seeming incongruous - as though Dalene's distinct ideas about phraseology have come to him in the moment, entirely naturally.... For my money, there's no finer coupling of these highly contrasting yet much-associated concertos on record."
"He makes a highly convincing case for the Nielsen concerto...... and takes on its virtuosity with apparent ease, striking a balance between the music's flightiness and sense of melancholy. In the Sibelius concerto.... he makes his own mark. Despite Dalene's youth he presents a fully fledged interpretation, full of insight and conveying the work's emotional trajectory with a masterly combination of freedom and control."
"Johan Dalene has a strong command of long evolving lines - crucial in both composers - but he balances that with a fine feeling for 'speaking' phrasing and articulation. The music seems to be addressing us personally, often on a very intimate level indeed. I haven't heard many performances that come so close in this respect to the classic Ginette Neveu recording (a firm personal favourite) in the slow movement of the Sibelius. The expression can certainly be full-toned and red-blooded, but what I like most of all are his pianissimos: how can tone that's so delicate, fragile almost, also be so full of feeling? Of course, Dalene is up against stiff competition in the Sibelius, but what I think gives his Nielsen the slight edge is the way he and John Storgårds bring out the element of conversation between soloist and orchestra. The enchanting dialogue that's such a key ingredient in Nielsen's later Wind Quintet is anticipated delightfully here. Yes, the Nielsen is a great concerto, but how many of the other 'great' violin concertos can be such fun, while at other times be so touching? Lovely recordings too. Strongly recommended." 6/6
"His vision of Nielsen's opus 33 confirms this skilful balance between ardor and sensuality. Subtle timbres and slender nuances reflect his taste for restraint rather than for demonstrative exploits. ...his interpretation combines momentum, charm and freshness." 5/5
"This new recording is so strong that I find it difficult to imagine that any of its predecessors have surpassed it. Dalene has a fearsome bow arm and impeccable intonation. Another asset is the variety and scope of tone colors he draws out of his instrument...his dynamic range is tremendous."
"Together with Storgårds and the Stockholmers, Dalene gives us what may just be the greatest Sibelius Violin Concerto on record of all time. I hadn't given much thought to the Nielsen before hearing this recording of it. But this new one by Dalene proved to be one of those "Oh my god" moments..... Dalene produces a tone that never loses its pristine purity and beauty, yet he manages to make his violin sound otherworldly and disembodied. Extraordinary! Johan Dalene's playing has about it an aspect of wizardry, much in the way we may imagine the playing of Paganini."
"Dalene returns to a work we already know he excels in, and this deeply intuitive, instinctive and empathetic recording again demonstrates his remarkable touch and feel, and the way he balances discipline and playfulness"
"Dalene seems entirely unfazed by even the most taxing of passages, not least the two extended cadenzas that come towards the end of each movement of the concerto. In both of these he displays not just an absolute mastery of all the double-stopping and dashing up and down the range of the instrument asked of him by Nielsen, but also an exquisite panoply of colours, dramatic one moment and breathtakingly hushed and whispered the next, all with spot-on intonation."
"... At 21, Johan Dalene already knows how to do everything. The pure and sure tightrope walker who meets Nielsen's virtuoso challenges with timeless brilliance. The inspired hero who transcends the stormy drama of Sibelius with a touch of popular fantasy and comes close to passing for a Boreal Gypsy. Elegant even in intoxication, the Swedish-Norwegian violinist makes his Stradivarius sing like a master."
"Dalene's supple, flexible interpretations succeed in making the pieces seem as if they were played under a gentle Nordic light. With a slender, always beautiful playing, he shows impressively that he can formulate the vocal elements out of the music in a particularly appealing way. In addition to this, the pointing out of forms and structures is not neglected." 5/5
"The impression after this recording could not be more positive.... he knows how to contribute his own qualities - impeccable technique in the cadenzas and a youthful momentum that he knows how to tame in the slow tempo- to a piece that is as beautiful as it is difficult. Watch out for the name, he is only twenty-one years old."
"This phenomenal 21-year-old performs the two concertos with brilliance, maturity and balance, highlighting the essential and very different qualities of the two most famous Nordic scores in this specific register.... Dalene's tour de force is to make them accessible and to extract their real beauties. The two slow sections that begin each of the two more popular parts of the work (Praeludium-Largo and Poco adagio) are here magnified by delicate, clear and homogeneous playing. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra responds perfectly, both to the wise requests of the excellent Finnish conductor Johan Storgårds and to the precise intentions of the composer. They contribute to raise this recording to the top of a discography that is nevertheless abundant and varied ... A landmark Nordic program and cast."
"When Nielsen's concert turns into Sibelius's concerto, it's like being transported from a populated dance floor, with nature as the backdrop, to somewhere in the middle of a strange wilderness where it's nature itself that's dancing. The civilised becomes mythical, the dialogical becomes signalling, the theatrical becomes something enchanting and the playful becomes magic. Never do I think I've heard these differences so manifest as on this recording ... I have heard Johan Dalene before, both live and on record, and have been struck by how naturally he combines beauty with feeling. Now he has surpassed himself." 5/5
"What amazed me when I listened to the results was the certainty of choice and deselection. The maturity of the clearly lyrical profile and the fact that a 21 year old is fully aware of where he stands. Virtuoso in his technique, but humanly serene in his musical interpretation, constantly searching inwards into the music to find the essential. Johan Dalenes' take on Nielsen's and Sibelius' violin concertos shows a new way forward for the music. But right now it's hard to imagine they can be surpassed." 6/6
"Dalene is a storyteller with a message in every tone....Dalene not only has a wealth of sound in his instrumen. They are also carved with so much character, and he alternates so quickly between the different colors, that the violin appears as a small orchestra in itself. Everything sounds natural."
"Johan Dalene clears all obstacles. A prodigy? Not at all. Here is a 21-year-old already mature champion who is on fire, playful and serious." 5/5
"Despite the still young age, one can hardly imagine a better ambassador than Dalene, who won the Carl Nielsen competition in 2019 in this work. His both fragile and intense tone, light as the Nordic summer night, conveys precisely the duality here." 6/6
"It is a remarkable performance, which establishes a young man with a sparkling gaze, an angelic smile, a new Menuhin."
"I put on a new disc of Carl Nielsen's violin concerto and after a while I think: I don't remember it being that good! It's a fairly early work, from 1911, by Nielsen and has probably taken a back seat somewhat to the later and more modernist concertos for clarinet and flute. But now it's a bit like hearing it with new ears. When I later compare it with my earlier recordings of it, the impression is confirmed. And who is responsible for the new interpretation? Well, the young (born 2000) Swedish star Johan Dalene. One can appreciate that three years ago he won the violin category of the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition. But in all honesty it must also be said that John Storgård and the Stockholm Philharmonic contribute greatly to the impression, as does the excellent sound from BIS. Tempi are slightly slower than on other recordings, but it works very well, and Dalene has a very beautiful tone."