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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major Op. 19 (1918) [21.58]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Four Humoresques for violin and string orchestra Op. 89 (Nos. 3-6) (1917-18) [14.45]
Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (1905) [32.35]
Ilya Gringolts (violin)
Göteborgs SO/Neeme Järvi
rec. Göteborg Konserthuset, June 2003 (Sibelius); Jan 2004 (Prokofiev)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 814-2 [69.18]

For me this combination of works represents a dream-team in repertoire terms ... well, almost. Prokofiev 1 and the Sibelius are among my favourite 20th century violin concertos along with the Miaskovsky, Walton and Janis Ivanovs. As for the glorious Humoresques they encapsulate an icy yet glisteningly yielding passion that no other work approaches. I say almost a dream-team because, unaccountably, the first two Humoresques have been omitted - there was plenty of space of them!

I know I am supposed to like the second Prokofiev Violin Concerto but it scarcely makes an impression on me. Perhaps I have yet to hear the right performance. The First Concerto is another matter altogether.

New recordings of Prokofiev 1 face stern comparisons. The ancient but unmatched Szigeti recording with Beecham conducting is an intensely magical fantasy ride (Naxos Historical 8.110973) and is certainly hors concours. The best modern recording/interpretation I have heard is of Dmitri Sitkovetsky on Virgin Classics although Oistrakh's version is also outstanding. Gringolts is even better recorded here. The spangled details of Prokofiev's fantastic orchestration radiate out delightfully towards the listener. Perhaps Gringolts is a mite over-emphatic in making phrases tell. However he has wonderful tone and technique and a musician's mind to match. The melody that reaches out at the start and close of the work is another one of those heartbreaking master-strokes of creativity. Also have you noticed how startlingly indebted the Walton concerto is to the Prokofiev? Listen to the start of the third movement (tr.3 00.21 onwards).

The transparency of this recording is amazing - listen for example to the burred timbre of the bassoon and shimmer of the strings. Engineering team, Lennart Dehn and Michael Bergek, should take a well-merited bow.

Gringoltsí Humoresques are up against competition from Bis, Apex, Omega, Philips - amongst a few others. They are sweetly despatched by him but are, by no stretch of the imagination, superficial salon material. They are a confection of warm Bruch, Northern Lights, arctic seas and breathy romance. Gringolts and Järvi take the Commodo with its whispering and whistlingly stellar harmonics (tr. 6 1.30 - compare 5.30 in the finale of the concertto tr. 10) rather too sedately for my liking but this is still fine playing. It shows sympathetic executant imaginations at work. Much the same can be said of the lovingly attentive reading of the Concerto. The spacious sound-image smilingly accommodates the étincellante qualities and songful-longing of Gringolts' reading which once again leans on the poetic and spacious. Good of its broad type it stands in another camp from the 1960s Oistrakh with Rozhdestvensky (BMG-Melodiya) which although no CD can ultimately claim to be definitive is certainly my reference version. Other fine versions include the idiosyncratic Tossy Spivakovsky/Hannikainen (Omega), Haendel/Berglund (EMI Classics) and a promising outsider in the shape of Julian Rachlin/Maazel (Sony). Once again the transparency and impact of the DG sound knocks spots off the BMG disc. However Oistrakh and Rozhdestvensky's spirit and propulsive flighting of the work is very appealing and perennially fresh.

Good imaginative versions of these works in resplendent sound.

Rob Barnett

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