Nemanja Radulović’s latest album, Baďka, takes us on a journey through different musical regions. From the Armenia of Khachaturian we travel to Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy-tale Arabia before reaching the shores of the Black Sea with Aleksandar Sedlar. On this new recording, set for release by Deutsche Grammophon on 9 November, the Franco-Serbian violinist is accompanied by some of his most long-standing musical friends and collaborators.

More than a violinist, Nemanja Radulović is a fully rounded artist who breathes new life into everything he plays, as can be seen from his Deutsche Grammophon discography (which ranges from core repertoire for violin and orchestra with the concertos of Bach and Tchaikovsky to Journey East, a collection of shorter works and perhaps his most personal album so far, dedicated to his mother). A musician who plays with the utmost passion and sensitivity, he appeals to all kinds of audiences, not just habitual concert-goers but also those with little or no experience of classical music.

“If I have a mission as an artist,” he says, “it’s that I want to share the things I love with all my heart with everyone!” This is why he loves creating moving musical narratives that transport listeners, taking them on distant journeys of the imagination. There’s always a story behind his vision of the works he performs.

Radulović has already looked eastward for some of his Yellow Label recordings. Journey East evoked the classical past of Central and Eastern Europe with works by Brahms, Dvořák, Shostakovich – composers inspired by traditional music and Slavic folk songs. After this album, the violinist turned to the eternal Bach, creating versions of the Violin Concerto in A minor and the Double Violin Concerto that offer a Bach of our times, and also including a viola concerto by Johann Christian Bach. Next came an album of standard repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Rococo Variations (world premiere recording of new arrangement). And now, with Baďka, which means “story” or “tale” in Serbian, he’s once again exploring the music of Eastern Europe and beyond.  

His performance style is impossible to reduce to a simple formula. He is open to all influences, notably that of the HIP movement, but has no qualms about giving free rein to a form of modernity when performing the kind of virtuoso showpieces that are sadly still seen as somehow second-rate repertoire. He also takes delight in new arrangements of existing works – extrapolations of the originals that can reveal entirely new worlds. When putting together a programme, he is more than willing to be inspired by meetings with other musicians, well aware that such meetings can generate new stories. Such was the case when it came to the making of Baďka.

The seeds for this album were sown during the first tour that Radulović undertook with Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, on which Bruch’s First Violin Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade were among the works performed. During the tour, the violinist used to sit in the auditorium for the second half of each concert and became increasingly captivated by Scheherazade’s solo violin part, which represents the voice of the sultan’s eponymous young bride as she spins her fantastical tales. With the idea of taking that line and expanding on it, Radulović asked his Serbian composer friend Aleksandar Sedlar to develop it into a piece for solo violin and his ensemble Double Sens. The resulting suite – to which the violinist contributed by helping to write the solo part – is a worthy successor to the kind of late nineteenth-century bravura violin works composed by Sarasate and Wieniawski, among others.

Since that first tour, violinist, conductor and orchestra have continued to work together on a regular basis, and they all met up in Istanbul to record the Khachaturian Violin Concerto for Baďka. The concerto dates from the Soviet era and reflects modern Armenia, rather than the fairy-tale east conjured by Scheherazade.

Nemanja Radulović has a soft spot for the Armenian-born Khachaturian, whose celebrated Sabre Dance he recorded for Journey East. For Baďka he chose not only the Violin Concerto, but also the composer’s Trio for clarinet, violin and piano. The key role played by the clarinet in both works makes them companion pieces. Here again Radulović was keen to record with musicians he already knew well and whose talents he hugely respected: clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer and pianist Laure Favre-Kahn.

The album closes with Aleksandar Sedlar’s Savcho 3, a work studded with folk tunes from the shores of the Black Sea. Sedlar created the work by taking an excerpt from his Concerto for saxophone and orchestra and adapting it for solo violin and Double Sens. Baďka is, then, an album rich in colour and texture, as Radulović’s violin is heard with full orchestra, then with string ensemble and piano, and finally in two chamber pieces. The locations in which it was recorded – Berlin, Belgrade and Istanbul – add to the idea of the eastern travels involved in its making.