Eelco Grimm’s Channel Classics Favorites 5 – Rosanne Philippens plays Prokofiev

Sunday November 29th Channel Classics celebrated its official 30th anniversary with a great concert by a selection of their star artists in the Frits Philips hall in Eindhoven. It came as a wonderful surprise that the long-planned concert could take place at all. The Covid-19 disaster had a firm grip on this festive event, but recently the concert halls in the Netherlands were allowed limited opening again and a live stream with a 30-person audience turned out to be possible. I feel very honored to be one of the lucky visitors.

The chance to play live again was eagerly embraced by the musicians and the passion and pleasure burst from the stage. Pianist Paolo Giacometti, who is with Channel Classics almost since its inception, opened the concert with Debussy’s beautiful La Cathédrale Engloutie. Dana Zemtsov, Anna Fedorova, Ragazze Trio and Nicholas Schwartz then performed magnificent. Rachel Podger (of my former blog) unfortunately was not able to come. But violinist Rosanne Philippens, to whom I want to dedicate this 5th edition of my “Channel Classics favorites”, was there.

Rosanne Philippens has a fascinating stage presentation. She says she wants to create ‘feelings of togetherness’ and many times she succeeds. Through her presence everyone on stage gets focussed and the audience has no choice but to surrender. For five years she plays the “Barrere” Stradivarius that was previously played by Janine Jansen. Janine Jansen also posesses that burning fire with which she enchants not only the audience but also the orchestra. I experienced this kind of magic for the first time during my studies in the 1980s. The South Korean Kyung Wah Chung captivated the entire Residentie Orchestra in The Hague. It was a fascinating demonstration of how a soloist can push an orchestra to perform at unheard levels. Later in the nineties I saw how the legendary conductor Svetlanov inspired the same Residentie Orchestra to reach world class level. Virtually without words, without a baton, and often without even moving his arms at all, he was able to completely enchant the orchestra through his charisma. My Grimm Audio colleague Peter van Willenswaard witnessed Svetlanov and Residentie Orchestra performing Tsaikovsky’s 6th symphony (“Pathetique”) in an inimitable grand way. He’s still talking about it now.

Kyung Wah Chung played Prokofiev’s first violin concerto at the time. Since then Prokofiev has always fascinated me with his beautiful melodies and exciting rhythms. His piano sonata no.7: what a bizarrely cool piece. Prokofiev was also on the verge of a dear friendship of mine. I started working as editor for Pro Audio Magazine in 1991. During this time, shortly after the Perestroika, Philips Classics signed a contract with the young, promising Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. It was decided to turn his first CD, of Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo & Juliet”, into something special. Recording engineer Onno Scholtze was given carte blanche and the recording became so special that they contacted our magazine for an interview about the project. That was the start of a long friendship with Onno Scholtze. In a future blog I will elaborate on this recording, but I now link back to Channel Classics. Onno Scholtze and Jared Sacks collaborated regularly, they really liked each other. Many of the sonic concepts that Onno supported have been put into practice by Jared.

Rosanne Philippens and Paolo Giacometti at the Channel Classics 30 year anniversary concert.

There are few recordings of Jared in which this can be heard as clearly as in “Rosanne Philippens plays Prokofiev”. The genius of Prokofiev, Philippens and Jared are showcased in a wide variety of pieces. Of the great Violin Concerto no 2 (with Symphony Orchestra St Gallen under Otto Tausk), the second part is the most famous. It feels as if you levitate and float away, goosebumps all over. Philippens plays the demanding concert with great precision, lyrically and expressively and the Swiss orchestra is on the edge of their seats.

In a contrastly move, Philippens then plays solo in the sonata for violin solo in D major. It is so intimate, she plays almost for you in private with her beautiful tone. Prokofiev loved the violin, you can hear that right away. The next work, the Five Melodies Opus 35b for violin & piano (with Julien Quentin), are among Philippen’s personal favorites. “Jewelery” as she calls it. And she sure mines gold together with Quantin, what a wonderful ensemble. Next we hear Prokofiev’s arrangement for violin and piano of the famous March from The Love for Three Oranges, and then back to orchestral work via the reverse route, an orchestral arrangement of the second movement of his 4th piano sonata.

From the very first notes both Philippens’ playing and the sound of this album fascinate. The focus with which Philippens plays is breathtaking, also because she makes it sound as if she plays those devilishly difficult pieces with the greatest of ease. She has mastered the technique, and now only communicates music. Interestingly enough, the recording itself has exactly the same qualities: it sounds so transparent and open that you take it as perfectly logical and happily immerse yourself in the sound and the playing. There is nothing in the way of the music anymore. The orchestra and the hall unfold before your mind’s eye, the grand piano stands in full splendor between the speakers and the warm sound of Rosanne’s Stradivarius carries you along. A masterpiece in all aspects.

Eelco Grimm

You can purchase Rosanne Philippens plays Prokofiev with a 15% discount at NativeDSD. Use voucher code GRIMM for this.

A recording of the Channel Classics 30 year anniversary concert can be enjoyed here >