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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [35:28]
Sérénade mélancolique, Op. 26 (1875) [9:26]
Souvenir d’un lieu cher (orch. Glazunov), Op. 42 (1878)
Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34 (1877) [5:41]
Ilya Kaler (violin)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 3-10 December, 2004, Studio 5, Russian State Television
and Radio Company Kultura. DDD
NAXOS 8.557690 [67:08]
Talk about rotten
luck. Naxos has had these performances in the can for a couple
of years, and have just released them, hot on the heels of
Julia Fischer’s recent Tchaikovsky disc on Pentatone, containing
exactly the same programme. The only difference is that Kaler
plays Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d’un lieu cher in Glazunov’s
orchestration, while Fischer plays the original version for
violin and piano.
I downloaded the
Fischer recording from emusic almost
immediately after its release, and should say that I agree
Lace that hers is one of the best recordings
of the Tchaikovsky concerto to have emerged in recent years.
The only recent recording of this work that had engaged me
more is Vadim Repin’s whirlwind account with Gergiev on Philips,
coupled with an equally impressive performance of the Myaskovsky
I fear that in
all the excitement over Fischer’s album, Kaler’s will be ignored,
and that would be incredibly unfair because this disc is excellent
in every way. In fact, Kaler’s account points up the only deficiency
in Fischer’s account: a lack of variety to her tone. Kaler's
performance is full of contrasts, as he colours the violin
line with subtle shading, yet maintains a lyrical virility
throughout. It is clear that he has lived with this concerto
under his fingertips for many years and that he still finds
much to enjoy and inspire in the familiar turns of phrase.
There is an artless facility to his playing of the big tunes
as in the opening statement of the first movement or in the
gorgeous Canzonetta, and a sweetness of tone that is
quite disarming. As the violin writing gets busier, Kaler and
the orchestra tend to pick up the pace quite significantly,
yet the rapid passages are dispatched with effortless brilliance.
Kaler's first movement cadenza has plenty of character, freedom
and precision. Cadenzas apart, Yablonsky and his orchestra
lend sympathetic support. This performance is not so much a
full-blooded flood of romanticism as a blossoming account of
elegance as well as brilliance. It also wears it war-horse
status lightly, impressing itself upon the listener by virtue
of its freshness and natural feeling. It is a tremendously
satisfying account and one that bears rehearing.
apply to the remaining pieces on this album. The quality of
the music, both in terms of its inspiration and emotional content,
makes this programme apt and it is hard to understand why it
is not more common. The Sérénade mélancolique is quite
a rarity, but it deserves to be far more popular. It was in
fact Tchaikovsky's first piece for solo violin, written to
a commission from the great Leopold Auer. The violin's part
is so full of longing and achingly beautiful that it is almost
a vocalise. There are striking effects of orchestration too,
with some magical woodwind interplay underpinning the sighing
of the violin.
The Souvenir is,
if anything, even more engaging. The first of its three movements
was initially intended as the second movement of the violin
concerto, with the spakling scherzo and intimate melodie added
later. The dark romanticism of Glazunov's orchestration is
entirely idiomatic and Kaler's playing is sweet toned and brightly
coloured. The little Valse-Scherzo that closes the disc
makes an excellent encore and Kaler plays it with gusto.
favours Kaler throughout, but this is generally not overly
problematic except for the first movement of the Souvenir where
Kaler's breathing is a little distracting. Keith Anderson's
liner-notes are up to his usual high standard.
If you are in the
market for a new recording of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto
this year, have a listen to this one before just buying Fischer’s.
You may find, as I did, that you want both.
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