The Classical Reviewer

Peter Sheppard Skærved is the dedicatee of well over two hundred works for solo violin, by composers such as George Rochberg, Judith Weir, Michael Finnissy, and Hans Werner Henze. He regularly appears as soloist in over thirty countries. His discography is extensive, ranging from cycles of sonatas by Beethoven and Telemann, the complete quartets of David Matthews, Michael Tippett and cycles of concerti from Haydn to Henze.

He has won awards from the BBC Music Magazine, been nominated for a Gramophone Award, as well as a GRAMMY for a concerto recording in 2007. Director of an acclaimed series of concerts at Wiltons Music Hall in London, Skærved is the founder and leader of the Kreutzer Quartet and the Munich-based Ensemble Triolog. He regularly appears as director and soloist with ensembles such as the Zagreb Soloists and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen. Skærved is the only British violinist to have been invited to play on Paganini’s il Cannone violin more than once and regularly gives recitals on the prestigious collection of historic instruments at the Library of Congress, Washington. He is also acclaimed for his collaborative work with museums, working regularly with the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Galleries, Victoria and Albert Museum and worldwide. He plays on a 1698 Stradivari owned by Joseph Joachim from the collection of the Royal Academy of Music, where he is the Fellow of Performance Studies.

Now Peter Sheppard Skærved has made the first in a series of recordings for Athene Records (part of the Divine Art Recording Group) called The Great Violins . On this first volume he plays an Andrea Amati violin made in 1570 from the collection of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 24 Fantasies by Georg Philipp Telemann.

George Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) 12 Fantasies for Violin TWV 40:14-25 were published in Hamburg in 1725. In the largo of No.1 in B flat major Skærved is delightful in the way he slowly draws out such fine timbres and textures with some Bachian influences showing through. We are gently lifted into the Allegro before building with through some terrific moments. There is a lovely weaving of rich textures in Grave before the Allegro where Skærved brings some fine varied phrasing. No. 2 in G major has an exquisitely laid out Largo revealing so much before we are taken gently into the Allegro where there are some very fine passages, with such a light touch. The final Allegro brings some fine flourishes with terrific phrasing.

The Adagio of No. 3 in F minor reveals so many fine textures from this lovely instrument before a Presto with a subtle rhythmic impulse. In the Grave-Vivace, I particularly love the way this violinist varies the bowing, bringing a multitude of textures and timbres with subtle dynamics. There is a sunny, brilliant opening Vivace to No. 4 in D major with some terrific double stopping before the Grave brings a lovely freedom of expression. Skærved fairly bounces into the Allegro , an intoxicating theme in his hands bringing much to delight. The opening Allegro – Presto – Allegro of No. 5 in A major brings phenomenally brilliant playing from Skærved before a Presto full of freedom and playfulness, a brief but beautifully done Andante and a terrific Allegro full of the finest twists and turns brilliantly executed by this fine violinist. After a wistful Grave, No. 6 in E minor the Presto is beautifully done before a lovely transition into a beautifully shaped Siciliana , Skærved bringing a gentle singing quality and revealing so many fine textures and timbres. The final Allegro builds finely with more lovely details and textures.

With No. 7 in E flat major Skærved reveals a melancholy side to the Dolce before a vibrant Allegro, full of crisp phrasing, revealing new aspects of this instrument’s lovely sound. There are some very fine sonorities in the largo before the crisp phrasing of the Presto with more lovely variations of tempi. No. 8 in E major has a melancholy Piacevolmente with lovely little faster phrases before the Spirituoso that races ahead, full of fine flexibility and some fine sonorities The concluding Allegro has a fine flow with more terrific phrasing. No. 9 in B minor brings another fine Siciliana beautifully done by this violinist before a bright and fluent Vivace , beautifully shaped and phrased and an Allegro that has a fine rhythmic bounce. Again Skærved shapes and phrases so well in the Presto of No. 10 in D major . The Largo is sensitively done, full of fine touches before an Allegro that is full of panache. The Un poco Vivace of No. 11 in F major brings some very fine sonorities from Skærved and his lovely instrument whilst Soave is exquisitely drawn. The third movement Un poco Vivace receives such fine phrasing, control of dynamics and tempi before an Allegro that is full of energy and panache. Absolutely terrific.

Peter Sheppard Skærved brings a very fine Moderato to open No.12 in A minor, finely phrased and nuanced with fine sonorities. There is a lovely rhythmic Vivace before an attractive Presto to which this artist brings a slightly folksy feel. If I have spoken more about Skærved’s playing than the lovely Amati violin it is merely because these are such fine performances. Yet it is surely the winning combination of fine instrument and superb violinist that makes this such a rewarding experience.

A special delight here is to have Telemann’s 12 Flute Fantasies TWV 40: 2-13 , published in Hamburg in 1732–33, played on the Amati violin in a world premiere recording. In his excellent booklet notes Peter Sheppard Skærved tells us that composers such as Telemann, taking advantage of the extraordinary expressive and colouristic opportunities of the flute of the time, also had aspects of the violin at the back of their minds. He gives the example of the placing or tuning of ‘open strings.’ These are present throughout the works as, in order to keep within the compass of the flute, the works never go below D, a tone above middle C, an open string on the violin; or above E, two octaves and a tone higher, which is the ringing ‘harmonic’ on the violin.

No. 1 in A major opens with a lovely Vivace, beautifully shaped before an Adagio-Allegro that has some very lovely little phrases finely revealed here by Skærved before running into the concluding Allegro . A beautifully formed Grave opens No. 2 in A minor before the Vivace leads into a nicely paced, light textured Adagio revealing some fine textures and sonorities. The final Allegro is delightful and brilliantly played, full of fine ideas. Skærved weaves through the Largo-Vivace-Largo-Vivace of No. 3 in B minor with a lovely natural flow before an Allegro full of rhythmic bounce. No. 4 in B flat major has a finely textured Andante before an Allegro that receives incisive bowing and lovely phrasing combined with fine textures. The concluding Presto has some beautifully shaped little details.

Skærved moves seamlessly through the varying tempi in the opening Presto-Largo-Presto-Dolce of No. 5 in C major before developing some fine rhythms and great phrasing in the succeeding Allegro. The final Allegro brings a lovely little tune with some terrific added details and sonorities. There is a lovely spaciously drawn Dolce that opens No. 6 in D minor with an Allegro that follows perfectly with a lovely rhythmically changing flow, perfectly done. The concluding Spirituoso moves ahead quickly with a lovely tone from Skærved, with moments of fine timbre and sonorities. The Alla Francese of No. 7 in D major allows this violinist to display so many aspects of his instrument and technique before a lovely, delicately done Presto with some fine incisive moments. The nature of the writing for flute brings some very fine textured passages from the higher range of Skærved’s Amati violin in the Largo of No. 8 in E minor before a finely controlled Spirituoso and an Allegro that brings a rhythmic lilt. No.9 in E major opens with a slow, beautifully drawn Affetuoso , quite lovely. There are many fine touches from Skærved in the following Allegro before a lovely little Grave. This violinist really leaps into the Vivace with some terrific, rhythmic playing.

There is a gently shaped A Tempo giusto to open No.10 in F sharp minor with a lovely flow and beautiful phrasing. There is a rhythmic, beautifully pointed Presto with a terrific coda before a Moderato to which this violinist brings a free, improvisatory feel. The Allegro of No. 11 in G major brings some lovely rich sonorities as it unfolds before an Adagio-Vivace that moves from its slow opening into a light and breezy Vivace, really pushing ahead before the Allegro that has great panache. The Grave-Allegro of No. 12 in G minor opens with some fine textures before the Allegro takes off and speeds to a lovely, spontaneous little Dolce. There is an incisive little Allegro before the Presto brings some lovely moments, full of fine details, textures and timbres. There is no doubt that these violin performances of the Flute Fantasies work extremely well in their own right with Peter Sheppard Skærved drawing some fine sounds from his Amati violin.

Whilst the equal star of this show is the 1570 Andrea Amati violin, it is this violinist’s ability to draw so many fine details, timbres and textures that makes these such fine performances. There is no doubt that in Skærved’s hands this is a glorious instrument. The recording is in a class of its own, detailed and spacious, giving one the feeling of being in the presence of spontaneous music making.

There are excellent notes from Peter Sheppard Skærved as well as details of the instrument and bow. The well-illustrated booklet is of the usual high standard we have come to expect from the Divine Art Recordings Group. This looks set to be a satisfying and rewarding series.

—Bruce Reader