Without fail, these
are two works that should jump to the
top of any list of alternatives to the
warhorse violin concertos. Here are
two powerful works that possess every
quality that defines ‘classic’ except
perhaps the passage of sufficient time.
Bold, lyrical, rhythmic, charming, dramatic
and thought-provoking are just a few
of dozens of adjectives that could describe
this music. Add to that a superb performance
at a fantastic price and you have your
newest must-own compact disc.
Myaskovsky’s fame lies
predominantly in his work as a symphonist.
With twenty-seven such works to his
credit, he is considered by many to
have been one of the leading exponents
of the genre in the twentieth century.
His violin concerto was his first attempt
at such a work, and he spent considerable
time studying the similar works of Beethoven,
Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, his friend
and schoolmate. The late 1930s were
a fertile time for violin music in Russia,
due mostly to the rise of the so-called
"Russian violin school," with
David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan at its
helm, winning competitions all over
Myaskovsky wrote his
concerto for and dedicated it to Oistrakh.
A large sweeping work in three movements,
the first of which is longer than the
latter two combined, the concerto owes
far more to the composer’s nineteenth
century predecessors Rimsky-Korsakov
and Balakirev, than to any sort of modernist
ideal. The opening movement is both
dramatic and lyrical and as its title
implies, passionate. The adagio is tuneful
and circumspect, while the rollicking
third movement is very dance-like.
Mieczyław Vainberg was a
disciple and pupil of Myaskovsky, his
style, although still conservative,
leans more toward his friend and colleague
Shostakovich than to any nineteenth
century composer. Born in Poland in
1919, Vainberg’s early promise was as
a pianist, but his hopes for a major
career were dashed by the Nazi invasion
of Poland during the Second World War.
He fled to, and was accepted warmly
in Russia, although on more than one
occasion he ran afoul of the authorities.
At one time he was arrested for being
an "enemy of the state" only
to be rescued by Shostakovich’s intervention
and ultimately, the death of Stalin.
His concerto is of
much tighter construct than the Myaskovsky,
consisting of four movements nearly
equal in technical challenge, musical
expression and length. Of particular
note is the passionate, melancholy Adagio.
Although not particularly melodic, (you
are not likely to leave the room whistling
the tunes) there is a formal and thematic
unity about the work that makes the
listener eager to find out what comes
And what of Ilya Grubert’s
playing? In short, it is utterly refreshing.
Here is a soloist that takes command
of the stage, is not afraid of a risk
or two, and plays in a manner that reflects
his feelings for the music. When called
for, his playing can be as lyrical as
the finest soprano, yet he never shies
away from putting forth a bit of gypsy
abandon, allowing his tone to even at
times be a bit gritty. This is by no
means a criticism. Grubert digs into
the strings, coaxing every last ounce
of sound and spirit out of them. This
is indeed a player worth watching, and
if this recording is harbinger at all,
there are great things yet to come.
Dmitry Yablonsky leads
a finely honed instrument in the Russian
Philharmonic Orchestra. Gone is the
customary Russian blatting and out of
tune wailing in the brass section. His
strings are warm and lush, and there
is a rhythmic tautness to the playing.
He paces both concerti perfectly, never
hurrying the fast passages and never
belaboring the slow ones.
Recorded sound is excellent.
Program notes by Per Skans hold the
reader’s interest, and provide the correct
balance of analysis, historical background
These are two composers
who deserve further attention. Hopefully,
a few more successful recordings such
as this one will propel this music off
the silver disc and into the concert
hall. Go buy this one and enjoy some
unusual yet highly accessible delights.
See also review
by Rob Barnett