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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Concerto (1938) [38:08]
Benjamin LEES (b. 1924)
Violin Concerto (1958) [27:25]
Elmar Oliveira (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams
rec. 21-22 May 2007, Great Concert Studio, Ukrainian National Radio, Kiev.
ARTEK AR00422 [65:36]
Experience Classicsonline

The Bloch concerto has been getting a good run on disc recently. My last encounter was a reading that bordered on the revisionist in terms of its explicit Hebraic fervour (see review), given by Zina Schiff on Naxos. There I laid out some of the recorded lineage in a work that’s never really become part of the mainstream concerto repertoire. Put simply there’s a Szigeti-Totenberg-Bress line that sees things, however differing tonally, in aristocratic terms. And that’s broadly the line followed by Elmar Oliveira in this Artek disc recorded in Kiev.

Tempi are standard – he and Schiff come within seconds of each other in the first movement for instance - and Oliveira plays with fine expressive control throughout. The recording is fine, expanding well and not as dramatically upfront as Naxos’s. Oliveira uses a wide range of colours and attacks – from crystalline upper to chewy lower strings. His first movement cadenza is authoritative and commanding. Oddly enough in this performance the solo line’s fluting, pirouetting galvanism put me in mind of Vaughan Williams’ writing for the violin. The expressive hooded phrasing in the central movement attests further to the affinity between soloist and work whilst the finale catches the first movement’s ethos with renewed control – excitingly done.

This is a fine performance of the Bloch, cut from committed cloth. It doesn’t subject the concerto to the kind of overhaul that Schiff did – a one-off in any case – but sees it whole, with refined fire.

The coupling is Benjamin Lees’s 1958 Concerto. With its exploration of spiky lyricism it seems like a progeny of the Prokofiev G minor Concerto, written over twenty years earlier.  It’s in any case an imaginatively written work, strong on rhythmic incision and percussive activity. The moments of lyricism deeply embedded in it are seductive. There’s a rugged first movement cadenza, and some gaunt brass writing in the unconsoling second movement, which has its share of extroversion. The violin struggles against the granitic orchestration but emerges to triumph in the finale. Once again Lees uses percussion with dextrous imagination and the solo violin, scurrying or chordally assertive, drives things to an exciting conclusion.

So a well contrasted pair of concertos, excellently recorded and finely played all round.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett




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