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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major op. 35 [34:55]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)

Violin Concerto in D major op. 35 [23:43]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn (Tchaikovsky)
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn (Korngold)
rec. Vienna Musikverein, Sept 2003, live (Tchaikovsky); London, Abbey Rd, Oct 2003 (Korngold)
SACD reviewed in CD format only
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 474 8742 [58:50]

While the flood of multiples of the 'great symphonies' has to some extent diminished there always seems to be a place for a new Tchaikovsky or Sibelius violin concerto. It is to the credit of all concerned that the Tchaikovsky in this case is mated with the Korngold a work liberated only in the 1970s from its exclusive servitude to Heifetz's relentless razzle-dazzle. Mutter's performances of both works are expressive and full of emotional and tonal colour. There is something very individual about her pliantly glossy, ‘elasticated’ tone in the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky - a ‘colouring’ she reserves for that movement alone. She confidently embraces opportunities to add character and emphasis. The orchestras seem on good form although there was one moment during the romping section of the Korngold finale when things began to slip.

Previn knows his Korngold very well and even if his DG recording of the Symphony suffers from a certain lassitude things are much better here. Of course he has known the concerto for many years. In the early-mid 1970s his BBC TV series included the work at a time when it was an outlandish and deeply suspect novelty. I wonder whose idea it was to introduce Ms Mutter to the work especially since for years now she has taken a special interest in contemporary works for violin and orchestra.

Both performances are very good indeed, viscerally even ferociously exciting towards the end of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky and with vicious guttural attack in the finale. They show the wife and husband team of Previn and Mutter well able to surprise and delight. Both vie with each other to make these recordings special events rather than entries in a recording diary.

How do these versions stack up against the multitudinous competition. As sound the Tchaikovsky is outstanding and the live recording has added an ambience that positively sizzles with life. As a performance it stands amongst the most emotional and the very best but does not supplant the extraordinary recording made by Oistrakh in Moscow in the 1960s. Also I retain a great affection for Campoli’s version as last reissued by Beulah and Kogan’s on EMI (the one with the Paris Conservatoire orchestra conducted by Silvestri).

The field for Korngold is thinner but if you would like an intensely emotional version then Mutter will suit you very well. I still enjoy the Anima-Mathé recording on Dorian which in its cool ardour perhaps reflects the ennui that overcame me from years of knowing the concerto only from Heifetz's intimidating and saturated schmaltz. Of course Hoelscher (EMI Red Line) and (Gil Shaham) are also strong contenders.

One drawback. I find the personality-dripping packaging a real affront. I ask you ... nineteen photographs of Ms Mutter throughout the booklet! The disc also carries her image! She is of course stunningly beautiful but is this level of Karajan-like idolatry really what listeners want? Much the same applies to the Hilary Hahn CD of the Elgar concerto. I dread to think of the design conferences that produced this suffocating emphasis on glamour. What is happening to the world's great violinists who do not have Ms Mutter's photogenic attributes?

Rob Barnett

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