Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The secret of Christopher Warren-Green

Classical music fans know the white-haired maestro as the leader of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. He'll be back in the saddle Friday after an autumn break, leading a program of Ravel, Debussy and Brahms.

But virtually nobody in the region -- except his wife, talented violinist Rosemary Furniss -- has first-hand knowledge of the skill that put him where he is today. Before he became a conductor, he was concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra in his native England. And though he took over the London Chamber Orchestra in 1988 as conductor, he also made recordings with it as a violin soloist.

What does his playing sound like? Here's a sample from his LCO recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons:

Warren-Green played the violin solos for one of my two favorite versions of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," with Russian conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy leading the Philharmonia. I also own his performances of other Vivaldi concertos, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending" and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5. (If you're curious, here's a complete list of his available solo recordings at Arkiv Music.)

His performances on the violin remind me of his conducting, especially when I first heard him: Favoring lean textures, understated but not unemotional, a little cerebral in the Jascha Heifetz vein and, like Heifetz, elegant and subtle. (I believe Heifetz was one of his idols; Furniss favored and even worked with the equally great, heart-on-the-sleeve Yehudi Menuhin.)

Even if you have other recordings of these pieces, Warren-Green has something incisive to say. His Vaughan Williams, especially, speaks to me: As the lark swirls upward, out of sight, the bird seems to merge with the sky and disappear. It's a rare violinist who can make that happen. 


David Russell said...

I have had the pleasure of performing with Christopher Warren Green, as well as getting to know him through several projects. This man is SUCH a fine musician and human being! We are truly fortunate to have him (and the equally amazing Rosemary as well) in residence in Charlotte.

I once did try to encourage him to take up the violin again for some concerts---and still think it would be wonderful (as I listen to his Vivaldi recording) if he would consider it! Charlotte can hope!

David Russell
Anne R. Belk Distinguished Professor of Violin
UNC Charlotte