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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Erica Morini in Concert
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 35 (1878)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77 (1878)
Erica Morini (violin) with
National Radio Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein, Paris, December 1957 (Tchaikovsky)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/George Szell, Carnegie Hall, December 1952 (Brahms)
MUSIC AND ARTS CD116 [67.58]

AVAILABILITY

www.musicandarts.com

Morini admirers are faced with a pleasurable choice. They can choose the commercial recordings she made of the Tchaikovsky and Brahms Concertos with the RPO and Rodzinski (now on Westminster 471 200) and can add as a provocative ancillary the live performances of the same works contained in this Music and Arts CD, in both cases with different conductors. The earlier, the Brahms, comes from a New York broadcast in 1952 conducted by George Szell, long attributed I believe to Bruno Walter, a well-known admirer of the Viennese violinist. The Tchaikovsky, from five years later, was recorded in Paris with Jascha Horenstein conducting the Radio Orchestra in Paris. Both performances are instructive and we should be grateful that companies such as Music and Arts and Arbiter are now supplementing Morini’s somewhat restricted commercial discography with a number of live concerto performances from the 1950s and 1960s.

Her Tchaikovsky is notable for a number of reasons. Though she had a small tone with a limited vibrato – her training with Sevcik was quite distinct from that of, say, her Russian contemporaries – she was still able to compete in the romantic masterpieces. Others before her who lacked opulent tonal projection but who possessed stylistic affinity – Zimbalist for example – could equally carve out a niche for themselves and so could Morini even if objectively her tonal armoury was ill equipped for this kind of repertoire. But the clarity of her bowing in the opening movement is without question and her technique is strong and resilient (it was never a transcendent technique but it was equipped to deal with pretty well all exigencies). Morini doesn’t make a big sound nor is she tonally vibrant; she is at the furthermost point from a tonalist such as Elman in this work, all molten ash and succulent romanticism. Her lower strings can also be a little steely, a problem that was to grow over the next decade. The recording has her quite forward in the balance so some orchestral detail is rather submerged (wind counterpoint for example) but equally it catches her passagework with clarity and it shows her to advantage. Her Andante is quite without the emotive finger position changes of Elman, or the razor intensities of Heifetz. But her trill is good, if not of electric velocity and her stylistic identification is on a superior plane. The woodwind principals are thankfully far more audible here and in front of them Morini phrases with what one could best call sweet gravity. There are some expected cuts in the finale. Here she phrases without vibrancy but not without affection. There is no great tonal allure here but equally an absence of glamorous pose and she pays attention to the orchestral architecture; the passage with the double basses is an example (there are many) of her intelligent projection of a musical line, abetted in this respect by Horenstein. In addition to the commercial Rodzinski and now this performance Morini made a set of 78s of the concerto with Defauw and an even earlier performance apparently exists, from 1940, with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony conducted by none other than Stravinsky. Whilst my own inclinations are for the romanticised opulence of an Elman I admire Morini’s Tchaikovsky; she meets it on her own terms and that is admirable.

Music and Arts are very straightforward about the various aural problems on these transfers (Tchaikovsky minor if with an upfront violin perspective, Brahms rather more problematical) so it’s as easy for me to quote them with regard to the Brahms; "gravel, ticks, surface noise, peak distortion, intonation problems, bad interpolations or dropouts, glips, bad change of disk." I’m not so sure what a glip is – but I can guess – but this litany of imperfections will doubtless have you shaking in your headphones. No need, really; the sound is far from perfect but not at all the blizzard of inaudibility you might have expected. Right from the start Szell leads a commanding performance, Morini entering with a fast trill, quick slide and very restrained vibrato. She is far more intent on the delineation of the line and unaffected stylisation than in artificial projection. Her technique is robust, allowing a pretty brisk basic tempo without an undue feeling of haste and even when she might reasonably dig into the string she doesn’t – her preference is for establishing her own temperamental proprieties in the work, aligning vibrato usage with her own expressive potential and stylistic norms. Her instincts keep her moving toward the structural climaxes rather than dallying for moments of incidental emotive intensity. The tuttis are really trenchant in Szell’s hands.

Her tone in the slow movement is again crystalline without any hint of opulence; intonation is good, her technique holding up well in a work in which others can tire alarmingly. Again those sometimes problematic lower two strings remain well equalized allowing her a degree of lyric purity with which to inflect the line; the slow movement is supple and refined. Szell animates the finale with very strong accents and almost baleful tuttis (some slight overloading here, perhaps inevitably). The brass is powerful and Morini fine if without the gypsy eloquence to drive the music yet further forward. If the stronger impression is made by Szell, Morini is true to herself and plays with an unaffected sense of direction and luminosity.

I tend to favour Morini in the classical repertoire. In romantic music her training had not equipped her, as it had others of her generation, for the tonal and expressive potential of sophisticated vibrato usage, amongst other devices. Nevertheless this disc shows, not least in a live performance, how she could bring something of her own to this repertoire and how an immaculate stylist could reward listeners with her own brand of chaste romanticism. A revealing disc then and no complaints from me about the sound or Allan Evans’ documentation.

Jonathan Woolf



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