> Schubert - Mendelssohn - Brahms [JW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1787-1828)
Konzertstück D345
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto Op 64
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto Op 102
Oleg Kagan, violin with
Natalia Gutman, cello (Brahms)
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Saulus Sondezkis (Schubert) 1/2/84
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur (Mendelssohn) 21/10/83
Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arnold Katz (Brahms) 4/1/81


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Live Classics devotion to the art of Oleg Kagan continues. There are now at least twenty-three volumes and this is number fifteen, a solidly romantic trio of works at or near the heart of Kagans nineteenth century repertoire. For all that we may remember him, since his untimely death from cancer in 1990, as a questing explorer of the twentieth century literature he was as convincing in much of the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Admirer of Kagan as I am I'm not entirely convinced that the adulatory nature of this extensive series is always to his advantage. The rather flimsy booklet notes speak of his "precision of a laser beam" - a rather formulaic and meaningless kind of critical judgment when there are certainly worthwhile things to be said about his playing, pro and contra.

The Mendelssohn Concerto dates from 1983 and was taped in Leipzig with Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra. There is some unusually aggressive passagework in the opening movement and from 10.35 some emphatic, rather disruptive, playing. Elsewhere one can certainly admire the range of tone colours in the Andante and some expressive heightening but also note his rather fast and tensile vibrato and in the more genial moments of the concerto it can be a liability. There is a little untidiness in the finale but Masur gives a marvellous life to the middle voices and gets them really to play out, enriching the string textures as he does so. Though the finale is certainly not hurried its attractively musical playing. He is joined by his wife, the cellist Natalia Gutman, for a Moscow performance of the Brahms Double Concerto. Conductor Arnold Katz begins the first movement at a deliberate and rather obdurate tempo, in a glassy sounding aural spectrum, an element of dour and forbidding greyness threatening to sabotage the work. Gutmans entry is immediately expressive and when joined by Kagan they really make something of Brahms passagework in the first movement, alive to its potential both melodically and rhythmically. The percussion is somewhat clattery here; spatially disjunctive too in the perspective, and at one point some there is some throbbing playing from the string players that will not be to all tastes. Nevertheless there is a palpable sense of intimacy in the slow movement and an intriguing view of the finale that stresses the angularities and unsettledness of Brahms writing - a welcomingly intelligent approach. In the Schubert Kagan has to contend with something of a scrappy orchestra and his fast vibrato doesnt always mine the lyrical potential of the work. A mixed bag for me but a provocative one in the best sense.

Jonathan Woolf


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