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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    


 

The Romantic Violin
CD1:
Serge RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)

Vocalise Op.34 No.14
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

La fille aux cheveux de lin

Nicolo PAGANINI (1782 - 1840)

Cantabile

Christoph Willibald Von GLUCK (1714 - 1787) arr. Jascha HEIFETZ

Melodie

Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865 - 1936) arr. Fritz KREISLER

Serenade Espagnole
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 - 1947) arr. Fritz KREISLER

Lied ohne Worte

AntonŪn DVOŘŃK (1841 - 1904)

Three Romantic Pieces Op. 75
Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934)

Salut d'amour

Fritz KREISLER (1875 - 1962)

Liebesleid
Schön Rosmarin

Jules MASSENET (1842 - 1912)

Meditation from Thaïs
Gil Sharon (vn), Idith Zvi (pno)
Rec. at Maria Minor, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 5 January 2003
CD2:
AntonŪn DVOŘŃK (1841 - 1904)

[1] Romance for Violin & Orchestra in F minor Op. 11
[2] Mazurek for Violin & Orchestra Op. 49
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)

[3] Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)

[4] Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G major Op. 40
[5] Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in F major Op. 50
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 - 1947)

[6] Andante, from Violin Concerto in E minor Op. 64
Max BRUCH (1838 - 1920)

[7] Adagio, from Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 26
Bohuslav Matousek (vn)/Martinů-Philharmonie Zlin/Peter LŁcker [1,2]

Borika van den Booren (vn)/Kiev Chamber Orchestra/Roman Kofman [3]
Emmy Verhey (vn)/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Vonk [4,5]
Emmy Verhey (vn)/Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Arpad Jóo [6]
Ilya Grubert (vn)/USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Igor Golovchin [7]
Rec. details not given
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92025 [CD1: 44'30, CD2: 70'09]

 

I ask you: really, why do we buy CDs? "Why do you ask?" you might ask. Hum - I might ask you the same thing. Confused? Well, so am I. Why? Because, of all the reasons I can imagine, I canít think of a single one that explains the reasoning behind this little lot! I can only guess that some bright spark at Brilliant Classics, I presume in the marketing department, figured out that there is a Big Demand for this sort of thing - hence an entire series of "The Romantic X", where "X" is anything that you can conveniently rummage out of your repertoire rag-bag. The problem is, I canít pin down exactly which niche of the market-place he, or indeed she, is aiming at.

Maybe Iím just being thick, so letís set aside such philosophical profundities for the moment, and look at what we have here. It would help - you, that is, not me! - if you had a peep at a review I did in May 2003 of a similar production where, in true algebraic fashion, X = "Harp". Hereís the link:

www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/May03/BrillCl_6425_RomHarp.htm

Although there was a certain amount of musical interest there, the packaging and presentation left something - almost everything - to be desired. In that respect, this production is better, though not by much. The heft of the "old-fashioned" double-CD case still lends a spurious feeling of substance. Youíll still need to protect the u-card with your life, as again itís custodian of the only listing of the contents. Again, information is sparse: some arrangements are credited but others are not, whilst recording details are given for CD1 only.

At least this time thereís a booklet! Fronted by a reproduction of the cover picture, its remaining three pages are devoted to monochrome photographs and brief biographies, in unidiomatic English only, of the performers on CD1. However, there is not one word about the music, nor about the four violinists, five orchestras and five conductors featured on CD2. I think we can strike from the list of possible market niches anyone with even the remotest of serious intent.

One thing seems fairly obvious: this is the recorded equivalent of a "cut and shut" job on a car. The first CD is a recital and ostensibly, given the recording date, a first issue: certainly I havenít been able to trace any other release of this. The second CD has been cobbled together from diverse bits and pieces, in two instances quite literally. The Bruch movement has been lopped off its preceding movement and the Mendelssohn carved out of its bed of continuity - Tovey must be turning in his grave. The really daft thing is that, with a bit of juggling there would have been room for both concertos complete!

It seems as if the more robust parts of these two concertos would somehow have damaged the market potential of this production, which is wrapped up all cosy-like in that ambiguous adjective "Romantic". As in "The Romantic Harp", but for different reasons, it doesnít really "add up". Are we talking "romantic" as in "sitting together on a settee in front of a real coal fire, gazing longingly into one anotherís eyes over a glowing glass of red wine"? If so, then what are, say, the Beethoven, Gluck and Bruch items - to say nothing of Dvorakís Mazurek - doing here? Are we talking "romantic" as in " the Romantic Period in music"? If so, then how can we justify the presence of Rachmaninov, Elgar, Kreisler, and again Gluck? Are we talking "romantic" in the sense of "idealistic, fantastic, unrealistic, storylike"? Oh, what the heck - you get the point!

It would have made my job easier if they had filled the CDs with lots of "romantic" lollipops and "best of" samples, then I could have dismissed the entire shooting-match as "Classical Music for people who donít really like Classical Music", or the sort of thing most readily purchased from a store that specialises in wallcoverings. But no! They have to go and stick in something not all that readily available elsewhere, namely the Dvorak Mazurek, though to what extent this will attract serious collectors I leave to your fertile imaginations.

So much for the width, what about the quality? The recital on CD1 has the advantage of consistency, at least as you progress from one track to another. Sharonís violin is clear and sweet-toned, not too vibrant, with plenty of body right through the spectrum. Be warned, though: the microphones do pick up his frequent sharp intakes of breath! Zviís piano is relatively murky and increasingly boomy as the notes pile up. It sounds as if the sustaining pedal is over-indulged, though this could equally be due to the ambience which, curiously, seems to affect only the poor piano.

There is much to admire in the performances, although I did become aware that some pieces seemed a bit relentless. The first two tracks immediately illustrate this divergence. Rachmaninovís Vocalise doesnít seem to have translated to violin as well as Iíd expect. On the other hand, having wondered what was the point of burdening Debussyís "Flaxen-haired Maiden" with the addition of a violin, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked, tenderly expressed and with an occasional touch of tasteful portamento.

Contrariwise, Gluckís stately lines were undermined by undue sentimentalising - well enough played, but overcooked., whilst the Mendelssohn returned us to relentlessness. But when it is good, it is very good. The Dvorak explodes into life, which is hardly what youíd expect of "wallpaper"! Its rugged dancing is punched home with verve. This is, believe it or not, also true of the Massenet, where Sharon and Zvi enthusiastically winkle out a madly passionate core. The Elgar, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, forms an admirable prelude to the Kreisler items where the partnership seems especially alive to the rhythmic undercurrents of the otherwise soppy tunes.

Turn to CD2, and consistency takes a vacation. This really is a rag-bag - recording acoustics and balances vary widely, as does sound quality, and be warned that the recording levels have not been "normalised"! The performers in the Dvorak Romance are set back in a large hall, which suits the composerís "pastoral Bohemian" vein, although detail and warmth are as swings and roundabouts. Matousekís violin "sings" nicely, giving a good account of the shifting but narrow range of moods, whilst Lücker draws fine, atmospheric playing from the orchestra.

The same performers attack the Mazurek like tigers, claws bared and teeth glinting. Maybe the sound is a bit papery, maybe the playing does get a bit scrappy, but - other than our dewy-eyed lovers - who cares? This is a scintillating, savage romp. You will, however, find it less easy to be tolerant of the Tchaikovsky. Although quieter music, it is recorded at a significantly higher level. That I could live with, but the sound is very hissy and "whooshy", for all the world like a Dolby tape with the Dolby off, and thereís an audience that hasnít yet settled in its seats. Boorenís violin tone seems very scratchy, and the orchestral sound tends to become harsh when loud. This may be the recording, as the playing itself is flexible, luxuriant, and emotional - Tchaikovsky wearing his heart on his sleeve, and proud of it! What sounds like a wrong note at the end of the first movement is quickly forgotten when the second gets going, delivered with bags of dash and drive, whilst the finale is played with more than half an eye on the composerís balletic credentials.

Of the Beethoven Romances, the first seems a bit stilted and uninvolving, whilst the more famous second is projected with far greater conviction. The violin sound, though, is very dry, feeling spotlit and insulated from the orchestraís mellower acoustic. The Mendelssohn movement is indeed faded in, on the bassoonís tenuto, and faded out - neatly! - just before the bridge to the finale. Butchery apart, this is very good: Verhey plays sweetly, with a slightly penetrating tone that nicely cleaves Mendelssohnís mellow orchestral backdrop. Moreover, itís not milked - the andante marking is keenly observed! Itís lovely enough to make your teeth grind in fury at being denied the rest of the work.

The Bruch slides in on the strings, a second or two before the soloist enters. Grubertís tone ranges from velvet to strident, betraying - I hope - some misguided spotlighting at strenuous moments. The Soviet musicians give us an unusual view of this music: in avoiding the smooth suavity of many Western readings, it brings out some relatively gritty details that are usually "smoothed out". Itís an interesting slant that makes the music a lot less comfortable, and definitely not for the ears of "fireside romantics"!

How to sum up? Well, quite a bit isnít "romantic" enough for "swinging lovers", and some parts are too boisterous for "wallpaper" aficionados. The documentation, which at least exists, is inadequate for "greenhorns", and the bleeding torsos of the concerti militate against the interests of seasoned collectors. The sound will deter "hi-fi" buffs, and the variable quality of playing will not attract the performance enthusiast. In spite of a number of items of genuine interest, I canít really recommend this set - because, when allís said and done, I canít really find anyone to recommend it to, other than those cats whose curiosity I may have inadvertently aroused.

Paul Serotsky

 



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