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Nicolay MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, Op. 44 (1938) [38:06]
Mieczyław VAINBERG (1919-1996)

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 67 (1961) [28:43]
Ilya Grubert, violin
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitry Yablonsky, conductor
Recorded in Studio 5 of the Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House from 27 February to 5 March 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557194 [66:49]


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 Europe.

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.

Although 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 next.

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 and anecdote.

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.

Kevin Sutton

See also review by Rob Barnett



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