With a pre-Christmas surfeit of recordings of the Beethoven there have also been a welcome number of in-catalogue traversals of the Korngold. Whether you want them conjoined, as they are here, merely because soloist Renaud Capuçon says they are among his ‘most enjoyable’ favourites is a different question.
Capuçon is not a febrile soloist. He prefers more longitudinal approaches. The writing, as it were, is on the wall early in the Beethoven when the modest and relaxed orchestral introduction leads onto Capuçon’s rather stately, laid-back broken octaves. His trills aren’t aggressive, rhythms aren’t biting. The approach is one of the utmost lyrical restraint, and fluidity. Orchestral tuttis are rounded not punched out. In this respect the ensemble between the soloist and Yannick Nézet-Séguin is of a kind. The obverse of trenchancy however is a degree of lateral introspection and this, I feel, is the limitation of this kind of seraphic approach. The cushioning in the slow movement is attractive, and Capuçon’s pure, silvery tone is nice too. But the rapt phrasing does, from time to time, border on what I am loath to call, but can’t in all honesty avoid calling, sentimental. And in the finale, despite the marshalling of the basses, and a thoroughly strong rapport between conductor, orchestra and soloist, I can’t help feel things are all rather too small-scale, and lacking in verve.
Such questions of fluidity recur in the Korngold. He takes the opening very languidly indeed and there are times in the concerto – especially at points in the first movement and in the central one - where one feels time stop. This is dangerous in a work such as this. It was written after all with Huberman in mind and it’s always been an intriguing question as to how he would have tackled it, given his resinous, astringent playing; that Heifetz brought it to life adds an entirely different gloss. Talking of whom this current performance occupies an entirely different sound-world to his famous old disc. My own reaction is Capuçon’s traversal makes the concerto more episodic than is either ideal or practical. For all the technical assurance on display, the tight silvery tone too, it resolutely didn’t work for me. Among the recent or fairly recent crop of Korngolds I strongly prefer Philippe Quint on Naxos 8.570791 – or there’s Perlman (EMI GROC 5096762 or EMI 5625902), Shahan (DG 4398862), and the matchless Heifetz.