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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major Op.35 (1878) [35.38]
Jules CONUS (1869-1942)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor (1898) [22.57]
David Garrett (violin)
Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
rec. Moscow, State Conservatory, Great Hall, October 1997
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4714282 [58:46] 

 

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This recording was released in November 2001, and is available as a CD and MP3 download from the Deutsche Grammophon website. I don’t remember much fuss being made at the time, other than that in some circles David Garrett was soon to become labelled as classical music’s David Beckham. The sultry headshots in the booklet do nothing to dispel this image, but despite destroying his valuable violin during a nasty fall at the Barbican Centre recently and being called a ‘clumsy oaf’ in The Guardian, this violinist has come a long way since then.

Something of a child prodigy, Garrett was playing solos from the age of nine, and soon became an attractive proposition for big name conductors and orchestras, recording his first DG album aged 13. He would have been around 17 when the Tchaikovsky/Conus recordings were made. The isolation which his solo career created something of a crisis in Garrett’s life not so very long after this recording was made, but I am glad to see he is now carving a healthy international career both as a soloist and chamber musician touring all over the world.

David Garrett’s playing on this recording is gorgeous throughout. His purity of tone in the upper registers is a delight, and the tenderness of the quieter passages can have a vulnerable quality which is winning, but can be quite confrontational if the emotion of the music is already too close for easy comfort. He did of course have the famous ‘San Lorenzo’ violin at his disposal at this stage in his career, and the brightness and singing qualities of the instrument suit the heart-on-sleeve musicianship of the young artist. His vibrato is intense and swift, which I much prefer to the slow sloppy variety, but it sometimes does have a width which for me can be a little over-persistent at times, though this is very much a matter for personal taste. I suppose the real lack is of any genuine excitement in the performance as a whole. There are some swathes of orchestral passagework which sound surprisingly uninvolved. The tempo of the first movement is marked Allegro moderato, but my feeling is that the ‘moderato’ gets too big a bite of the cherry.

Garrett’s own ancestry has its roots in Russia, and there is no denying his emotional connection with the music. In the booklet, he describes his sensations and feelings about performing in the Moscow Great Hall, and the experience clearly made a deep impression. The central Canzonetta certainly has a fine, poetic feel to it, and the passion I felt lacking a little in the first movement is certainly more present in the Finale. Garrett’s playing digs less deeply than some in this music, and at this stage his tone and articulation has a light, perhaps almost feminine feel to it. This I however prefer to any kind of mannered attempt to draw throaty grit from music which often has a similarly balletic feel to it as something like Swan Lake, with all its French grace and stylistic elements. That said; the Russian-ness of the music is not necessarily the foremost characteristic which springs to mind, in the solo playing at least.

Jules Conus was a composer unfamiliar to me. His original name Yuli Eduardovich Konyus betrays Russian origins, although, born in Moscow, his parents were of Italian and French descent. His Concerto in E minor is every bit as romantic as that of Tchaikovsky, and indeed owes not a little to that composer is some of the melodic shapes, and in the orchestral palette of colour and emphasis which Conus uses. There are some hints of other composers, Dvořák and Rachmaninov to name a couple: you may have other associations, but whatever the influences this concerto is more than the sum of its parts, and has a strength of expression which is forcibly and more than convincingly conveyed by both orchestra and soloist. The piece is lacking only in the thematic distinctiveness by which the greatest concertos are often remembered – the memorable ‘hook’ which makes them a hit. You probably won’t come away humming any of the tunes after a first hearing, but I can assure you that you will be coming back to it if romantic concertos are your cup of tea. Technically the recording is of course excellent, although there is a slight drop in level just before the cadenza for some reason.

The cover art is intriguing. To me it looks as if Garrett is being beaten with a cello, with very negative results both for that instrument, and possibly for the soloist’s left shoulder. Competition is fierce in the ever-expanding world of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and in many ways the biggest USP for this disc is the Conus concerto. With the Russian National Orchestra on its home turf in the grand acoustic of the Moscow Consevatory’s Great Hall and in good form under their founder Mikhail Pletnev this was always likely to be more than an also-ran, although this orchestra also accompanies Christian Tetzlaff on his excellent recording of the Tchaikovsky on a Pentatone SACD with Kent Nagano. David Garrett’s youthful performance may not be an absolute first choice, but if you want the Conus then you are unlikely to be disappointed by the Tchaikovsky.

Dominy Clements





 


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