I had high hopes for this issue, as we could do with a really
good modern recording of Shostakovich’s masterpiece, falling back as I
have, on David Oistrakh’s recordings either with Mravinsky / Leningrad
P.O., or with the Mitropoulos / N.Y.P.O. This disc is no competition I
am afraid, for two main reasons.
Firstly, both performances should be renamed "Concerto
for Violin and Nose," disfigured as both performances are with
sniffing, presumably from the soloist as he seeks to add feeling to
the playing. Not for this listener I am afraid – why do soloists allow
personal distractions like this on to disc? I found it so frustrating,
that I probably will not listen to this disc ever again. And that is
a pity, as the actual performances are quite, no, very good.
The second idiosyncrasy, particularly evident in the
Tchaikovsky is the speeding up for loud passages, and slowing down,
almost whenever the playing level is low. This is probably another example
of the soloist adding expressive nuance to the playing. I find every
bit as much expression in this concerto when it is played straight –
the expression was written in by the composer – it is not necessary
to add any more.
The sad part of the enterprise is doubly disappointing,
as the DG engineers seem at last to have cracked the problems of the
acoustic in the Tel Aviv venue. In the past, record companies, including
DG seem to have had enormous problems trying to tame the strident sound
which the Israel Philharmonic produce in their home. (Think of the various
Bernstein issues from DG). This time, the sound is really quite acceptable,
and Perlman’s direction of both scores is good. Such a pity that this
disc is totally spoiled (for me) by the factors mentioned above.
DG’s notes are as good as you get nowadays, with descriptions
of the composers, how the works were developed, the soloist and his
progress to where he is at present in the musical world. The only omission
is notes on the conductor and the orchestra, but I suppose that when
it is the first release of a new artist, the support team will probably
take a back seat.
So what about the performances excepting the comments
I have made before. The Tchaikovsky (placed first on the disc gets off
to a very promising start with Gringolts playing very well with not
much vibrato, which I appreciate. Too often it seems that violinists
who have to play with wide vibrato to maybe hide the fact that they
have difficulty finding the actual note. There is absolutely no evidence
of this here. The middle of the movement cadenza is played with absolute
authority, and apart from the speed fluctuations, this movement progresses
to its conclusion very well. The slow movement is played simply, and
apart from the disfigurations goes very well. The finale breaks upon
us, with both conductor, orchestra and soloist in perfect accord.
The Shostakovich concerto has a much wider span of
emotions to express, given the conditions under which it was composed,
with the composer living in constant fear of being removed to exile
for un-Soviet activities. The kernel of this work is the central passacaglia,
and this is played with restrained emotion which to me is just right.
Unfortunately due to what has been covered earlier, the distractions
are too great to overcome the good points. A great shame.