Fabulous fiddling and wonderful sound! What’s missing? It would
be too uncharitable to say that only the music is lacking, but
there is I’m afraid some truth to that. As I listened to these
staples of the violin concerto repertoire, my mind was concentrating
on Ivanov’s gleaming tone and tremendous technique. On first hearing,
I thought there might be something very worthwhile here that would
challenge the competition. However, the second time around - or
to tell the truth before I finished my initial audition - I knew
that the competition need not fear the newcomer.
Ivanov is a young Belgian artist of Bulgarian parentage whose
interpretations will probably deepen with time, but for now
he would be advised to stick with works that need more exposure
than these two popular twentieth-century concertos. I’m sure
that if you heard these performances, especially the Shostakovich,
at a live concert, you would come away being very impressed
with his talent. But, should these performances be preserved
In the Bartók the tempi are part of the problem, but
they far from tell the whole story. I compared this with five
other recordings of the concerto. While it is true that Ivanov’s
is the slowest of the lot, this was so much a problem with the
outer movements. However, he over milks the beautiful melody
at the beginning of the slow movement and applies portamento
very thickly here, making one a bit seasick. The timing for
this movement is an incredible 10:38, while the others I compared varied from
9:18 (Mullova) to 9:59 (Mutter and Tetzlaff). It may not seem like that much, but it is definitely
noticeable—especially as their use of portamento is much subtler.
In the famous passage in the first movement (at 12:46-13:05
in this recording) where Bartók has the violinist playing quarter
tones that give the music a wonderfully queasy feeling, Ivanov
seems to be playing half-steps instead. These are two of the
details, more than minor irritants that do not wear well on
repetition. In the larger scheme, the recording places the violin
upfront as is often the case with violin concertos. But here
the orchestra, which plays very well, seems to be relegated
to a position of accompaniment rather than being a true partner.
Again comparison with other recordings will bear this out. For
a recommendation of the standard version of this work, I would
suggest either Mutter/Ozawa (DG) or Chung/Rattle (EMI). For
the more adventurous the original version of the concerto with
its brass fanfares at the conclusion - rather than the solo
violin that Bartók substituted on violinist Zoltŕn Szekély’s
advice - either Tetzlaff/Gielen (EMI/Virgin) or Mullova/Salonen
(Philips) is recommended. Any of these will satisfy more than
this new one.
The Shostakovich left a better impression with me.
Ivanov seems much more suited to its emotionalism than he does
to the Bartók idiom. Here his tempi seem to be normal, too.
In fact he is nearly two minutes quicker than my current benchmark,
Vengerov/Rostropovich (Warner/Teldec). The first three movements
are slightly faster than Vengerov’s with only the finale being
slightly slower. I like the way he dances in the second movement
Scherzo. Still, in direct comparison with Vengerov, Ivanov comes
across as somewhat superficial. This is due in some degree to
their respective partnerships. Vengerov and Rostropovich with
the London Symphony perform as one, finding a real depth of
emotion in the music. Certainly the closer, less integrated
recording of Ivanov’s violin exacerbates one’s impression of
his interpretation. Steinberg and the Flemish orchestra accompany
very well, but without the character and identification with
the music that comes naturally to Rostropovich.
Yossif Ivanov has the sound and technique to be a first-class
violinist and musician. Only time will tell if he fulfills the
promise he has demonstrated here. For now, I would stick with
one of the recommendations above, among others, for these concertos
and hope that Ivanov in the future will choose repertoire where
competition is not so keen.