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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33 (B. 63) (1876) [39:20]*
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 (B. 96) (1879, revised 1882-83) [31:04]†
Rustem Hayroudinoff, piano*
James Ehnes, violin†
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
Recorded at the Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England on 2 October (Violin Concerto) and 16 December (Piano Concerto) 2004. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10309 [70:29]


A welcome release from the Chandos label of two of Dvořák’s concertos. Both are overshadowed by the celebrated Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 from 1895, which has remained the most admired and most recorded cello concertos in the repertoire. In terms of popularity the Violin Concerto has consistently eclipsed the Piano Concerto, a work which has never quite caught on with the majority of music lovers.

The violin was an instrument that Dvořák knew very well and for the two decades after its composition, his Violin Concerto was one of his most frequently performed works. Despite its wealth of fresh and characteristic invention it is not heard today as often as it deserves. Its unusual form – a truncated first movement that flows without a break into the slow movement, the concerto rounded off by a finale that in size balances the other two movements – may well have been suggested by Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. There are, too, a few unmistakable echoes of the Brahms concerto. The thematic material is however deeply Slavic and wholly characteristic of the composer, nowhere more so than in the sonata rondo Finale, one of his most brilliant and delightful essays in Czech dance rhythms.

Canadian-born violin soloist James Ehnes is on fine form and makes strong claims for the score in an account that is easy to recommend though not particularly special. Ehnes plays with considerable refinement and sensitivity and there is much to be admired especially in the poetic interpretation of the Adagio. However, I would have preferred a touch more vitality and dash in the outer movements. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Noseda provide a sympathetic partnership.

Of the many fine recordings of the Violin Concerto my preferred version is the brilliant account from Kyung Wha Chung and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti from 1989 on EMI CDC7 49858-2 c/w Romance in F minor, B.39. I also admire the accounts from Maxim Vengerov and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur on Teldec 4509 96300-2 c/w Elgar Violin Sonata and from Ilya Kaler with the Polish National RSO under Camilla Kolchinsky on Naxos 8.550758 c/w Glazunov Violin Concerto.

Dvořák was a string player rather than a pianist, and though his keyboard style in the Piano Concerto is almost invariably effective and well-written, it is sometimes unidiomatic and uncomfortable to play. This is possibly the reason for the work’s general neglect. In the twentieth century the work gradually became known through ‘performing versions’ such as that by Wilém Kurz. In recent decades, however, some pianists, such as Sviatoslav Richter, have tended to go back to Dvořák’s original. On this disc the Talented Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff plays a mixed text, partly using Dvořák’s original but, where that is ineffective, employing the Kurz text. Where Kurz’s changes seem to push the piano part too far in the direction of a typical romantic concerto, Hayroudinoff has found his own solutions for staying true to Dvořák’s intentions. Calum MacDonald, the note writer, states that Hayroudinoff’s only real liberty has been to maintain the pulse towards the very end of the slow movement, where Dvořák, in a passage widely held to be ineffective, doubles it.

Hayroudinoff cannot transcend the score’s weaknesses and despite his valiant attempts the score comes across as awkward and disjointed and demonstrates why the Piano Concerto is only able to hold a tenuous foothold in the repertoire. He is a touch tentative in the opening movement but brings off splendidly the furious and stormy coda. In the central Andante, which could be described as being evocative of a woodland pastoral, which Dvořák always handled naturally with freshness, the playing is spontaneous sounding whilst maintaining integrity and sensitivity. The soloist is most convincing in the closing movement, composed in Dvořák’s most characteristic ‘Czech Nationalistic’ vein, with playing that is light and airy having a dance-like quality. Throughout the score Hayroudinoff is finely supported by conductor and orchestra.

Using the solo part in its original form Sviatoslav Richter’s 1977 account of the Piano Concerto with the Bavarian State Orchestra under Carlos Kleiber is my preferred recoridng on EMI 5 66895-2 c/w Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasia. On a par with this Chandos account is the excellent version from the prolific Jenö Jandó with the Polish National RSO under Antoni Wit on Naxos 8.550896 c/w Symphonic poem: The Water Goblin Op. 107.

These are well performed recordings from Chandos that do not disappoint even if they are not my preferred version of each work.

Michael Cookson




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