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Violin Concerto in D, op.35
Meditation, op.42/1
Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture

Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
Hänssler CD 98.346 [68'08"]
 Amazon UK   

A companion to the same artists' Sibelius disc, in which the violin concerto (plus, in this case, the Meditation which was its original second movement) is coupled with Shakespeare-inspired orchestral music. Having questioned the balance between soloist and orchestra in the Sibelius, I am happy to report that the present recording is excellent in every respect.

After a curiously inconsequential opening flourish Sitkovetsky provides much fine playing. Unfortunately this performance shares with the Sibelius a tendency on the soloist's part to get slower at the least opportunity, and here the damage is not limited to the first movement since the finale, too, is steered into the doldrums whenever a lyrical theme comes into sight. The slow movement is less affected and the Meditation is a complete success.

The orchestra has a strictly accompanying role but it has to be said that, when it has something of its own to do, Sir Neville does it rather blandly. The wind-playing lacks pungency of timbre and the ear expects the open fifths that introduce the finale's second subject to rasp more. Marriner's strengths in Tchaikovsky lie in nicely sprung balletic rhythms (there are some very winning moments in the Meditation where the violin rides over chugging triplets) and a certain elegance of phrasing. It need hardly be said that this is not enough for Romeo and Juliet and one wonders if he is deliberately setting out to expunge the work of its extra-musical Shakespearian connections. For much of the time Tchaikovsky's own passion carries the day but there are moments which almost undermined my faith in the piece. The alternating string and wind chords before the fight breaks out have no meaning if not animated by some sort of imaginative participation on the conductor's part and the lead into the first appearance of the love theme emerges as mere throat-clearing.

As a comparison I listened to Boult in Romeo (a World Record Club original which turns up in EMI compilations from time to time), not because Boult was supreme in Tchaikovsky (for a full baring of the composer's neuroses one would go to the likes of Mravinsky or Markevich) but because his concern for structural logic and dislike of rhetoric might have been expected to lead him in the same direction as Marriner. But not so; Boult was too great a musician not to grasp the fundamental point that without an element of self-dramatisation this sort of music does not get off the ground. There is tension right from the start, the love-theme has a recognisably Tchaikovskian yearning and the performance swirls and surges to an overwhelming climax that leaves the listener in no doubt that this is one of the most passionate and tragic love stories ever told. I wish I could find some compensating advantages in Marriner's approach but I have to conclude that it is basically misconceived.

In short, Sitkovetsky's admirers will be pleased to hear him in the two concerted pieces and we may hope that he will learn to express his love of the music less indulgently in the years to come, but Romeo really will not do.

Christopher Howell

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