Aureole etc.

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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1875) [34.01]
Violin Concerto (1878) [32.17]
John Browning (piano)
Erick Friedman (violin)
London SO/Seiji Ozawa
Rec. 1966, 1965, London, ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 09026 63979 [66.18]


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This is a well-loved pair of works separated by only three years from a composer then in his dazzling thirties. You would be lucky to find them in a single concert given the featuring of two soloists. On disc the coupling is not at all unusual.

These two readings from U.S.-born soloists have been yoked together before - possibly in the RCA Navigator series and before that on LP. Ozawa delivers explosive if delightfully unsubtle dynamism as if resolved to be noticed (listen to him in the thunderous repeated tutti in the first movement of the violin concerto at 8.57). Friedman is as forwardly urgent and incendiary as Ozawa who is equally good at the pastel painting of the slow movements. As impressive for vitesse as for muscle - excitement is never in short supply from Friedman; nothing is gabbled nor are details scouted. Friedman was a Heifetz pupil who performed Bach’s Double Concerto in 1960 in London with his teacher. This recording seems to have been one of his comparatively few recordings before a road accident in the mid-1980s confined his career to teaching. He stands closer in his accessible generous response to the poetry and plenitude of tone of David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan and even Kulenkampf than to the chromium gleam of his master. Of course, on a good day (such as his recording of the Elgar with Sargent) Heifetz can be incomparable but there were many recording days when he leaves me unmoved. Friedman’s note production is steadier than Francescatti (whose quickish vibrato can annoy some) and certainly than Sarbu or Belkin. I would love to have heard Friedman in the Sibelius at one extreme and the Saint-Saëns Havanaise at the other.

The Piano Concerto is launched with the same beefy presence you encounter in Rozhdestvensky’s Decca-Universal version with his wife Viktoria Postnikova. The horns of the LSO (to be relished in soloistic repose in the Violin Concerto) here exercise a belligerent grip. The orchestral web is more congested than in the Violin Concerto. The piano sound carries a hint of gauzy warmth and muffling drapes. Browning’s delicacy, celerity and fantasy are best displayed in the middle movement in which there is some truly lovely playing. Sad to note his death earlier this year (2003). John Browning was better known for his never CD-transferred Prokofiev concerto cycle and, of course, for his classic Barber (CBS-Sony).

Recording quality is admirable: sable, smooth, a tad raw perhaps but really pretty good though less so for the Piano Concerto. Some wise choices have been made by Andreas Torkler in the remastering process conducted at Sonopress’s Gütersloh studio. Friedman’s is a good version jostling shoulders with Kogan (EMI, Silvestri), Oistrakh (BMG-Melodiya), Vladimir Spivakov (various Slovakian labels). Browning is less good when up against Postnikova, Weissenberg or Gilels.

This is at bargain price so if you are starting out on a Tchaikovsky journey and want to make it a passionate pilgrimage you can be assured of real enjoyment from this disc.

Rob Barnett

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