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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53 (1882) [33:45]
Piano Quintet No.2 in A major Op. 81 B155 (1887) [38:13]
Sarah Chang (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano); Sarah Chang (violin); Alexander Kerr (violin); Wolfram Christ (viola); Georg Faust (cello)
rec. Watford Colosseum, July 2001 (concerto) and Mozartsaal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, May 2002 (quintet)
EMI CLASSICS 5034152 [72:06]
Experience Classicsonline

Two reissues of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto have turned up at once for me to review; the other one is Christian Tezlaff’s Czech Philharmonic performance with Pešek on Virgin. I’ll allude to it in passing here.
Here we have the somewhat odd but nevertheless adventurous coupling of the Concerto with the famous A major Piano Quintet – a democratic piece of programming from Sarah Chang which sees her with some august colleagues.
Back to the Concerto. It was recorded at the Watford Colosseum (ex-Town Hall) with the LSO and Colin Davis back in 2001. It seems to have received high critical marks at the time and doubtless will so again from many quarters; not, alas, from me. Chang is a fastidious and technically admirable player but I don’t detect any real affinity with the life-blood of the music here. In that respect I fear Colin Davis is at fault as well; he’s made some fine symphonic recordings of the composer’s music over the years but his view of the concerto is lethargic and lacking in energy, in vitality, in pesante rhythms. The first movement is difficult enough to regulate at the best of times without turning it into a “smelling the roses” fest - and with a diffuse acoustic things lose focus even more. And I’d have traded some ragged orchestral entries for vestiges of real – as opposed to professional – passion.
Yes, there are eloquent and superior wind lines in the slow movement and the string pizzicati are excellently calibrated; Chang is refined, virtuosic with brilliantly tight trills. But it’s the extremes of dynamics that register most – that unsettling feeling that things are simply not phrased naturally and therefore taken to excess. It’s most noticeable perhaps in the finale where Tetzlaff and Pešek really dig into the rhythms with unforced élan. By comparison Chang and Davis are attractive but not as agile or as incisive. And, one final thing before we move on, Chang is over–prominent in the balance.
The coupling was recorded in Vienna. It’s notable for a very extended traversal of the first movement, which thereby fractures, for all the instrumental finesse of the playing. Two classic performances – Curzon and the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet and Edith Fernadi and the Barylli Quartet - show how performers can go to the heart of the music without imposing extraneous schemes on it. As if to over-compensate for their languorous stroll in the opening they take a clipped and unfeeling approach to the slow movement.
Tetzlaff is at most points preferable to Chang in the Concerto though his reissue has complicated things by deleting his Lalo performance and substituting a performance of the Dvořák Piano Concerto and Klid instead [Virgin Classics 391346 2]. We needn’t complicate things still further by referencing Suk, Milstein or Příhoda.
Jonathan Woolf


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