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Violin Concerto, Op.33

Violin Concerto, Op.26

Nikolaj Znaider, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Lawrence Foster
EMI CDC5 569062, [65.12] Full Price
 £12.50   Amazon UK £13.99  AmazonUS  CDNow


Nikolaj Znaider, a 25 year old Polish-Israeli Dane, here makes his concerto debut on EMI - and it could not have been better (although the proofing of the booklet could have been). The coupling is an unusual one but what impresses is the delight in hearing a young violinist so clearly looking back to the past to capture that sound and strength of tone which I had thought almost a thing of the past. Hearing Znaider's Bruch, a hackneyed work in the wrong hands, reminded me of a Kulenkampff, a Schneiderhan or an Oistrakh. This young player's serenity of expression and golden tone mark him out as a violinist of exceptional promise in an era when violinists have become almost as urbane and indistinguishable as automatons.

Nielsen's concerto is a neglected masterpiece - and Znaider's performance of it a miracle of precision over what appear insurmountable technical obstacles. Hear the opening minute of this performance, with the violinist's immediate entry after the briefest tutti, and you will sense not only an imperial technique but also a dynamic range of peerless expressiveness. In the lower register his tone is like mahogany, in the upper as beguiling as spun gold. Hearing any one of the five cadenzas in this concerto (6'15 to 9'25 for example) made me want to hear Znaider in Bach so irrepressible is his artistry and his ability to produce nothing other than a beautiful sound from his violin. His attack is cleaner than any other soloist I have heard in this work (even Cho-Liang Lin) with bow/string articulation aristocratically poised and pure. This performance is at once haunting, sublime and effortless. It is a triumph.

The Bruch is such an over-recorded work that any new performance of it has to be special. Part of the charm of this particular performance is Znaider's spaciousness of tempo in the first movement - and his radiant expression of tone which combines purity and poetry in equal measure. His confidence in using rubato belies his youth - the glorious second subject of the first movement, for example, is more impulsive than we are used to especially when compared with violinists who recorded this work at a similar age - such as Lin or Vengerov. Listen to his hushed pianissimo at the opening of the second movement (0'01 to 0'30) and the warmth he generates from the low strings and you could not wish for more refined playing. Vibrato, like his intonation, is spot on and never overwhelming. The LPO respond magnificently to their young soloist producing playing of ripe expressiveness in the adagio, and a blistering bravura in the allegro finale. Some may find this performance eclectic, even old-fashioned, but I found it more refreshing and commanding than all but the greatest performances of this work - Lin, Perlman (with the LSO and Previn) and Menuhin with Susskind. The recording, as well as the orchestral playing, in both the Nielsen and the Bruch, is first rate.

EMI's marketing department have done little to date to promote this major new signing - which is surprising given his brooding, film-star looks and the sheer opulence and brilliance of his playing. Znaider is currently playing the Beethoven concerto on tour with the LSO in Japan - a work for which his tone and sense of scope and detail is ideal. Would it be too much to hope for that EMI might tape this for release?

This is one of the finest violin records to come my way for years - and is pretty much indispensable for all lovers of great playing.

Marc Bridle

Performance & recording -

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