Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Concerto in D minor, op.8 (1882) [31:40]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major, op.35 (1945) [25:25]
Pavel Šporcl (violin)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Kout
rec. live, 24 June 2008 (Strauss) and 8-9 October 2008 (Korngold); Smetana Hall, Municipal House, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 3962-2 [58:24]
Well first of all I’ve always tried to play as best I could, but I thought of doing the violin concert business in a little bit different way than usual, so I decided not to play in tails, I played in just a shirt and trousers and wore a bandana around my head. And I tried to be as close to the young public as possible. I wanted to show them that a young person can also play classical music, and that they don’t have to be apprehensive about going to the concerts or about listening to classical music. And I think that’s what made the difference. Now I don’t play in a bandana any more, but I have a blue violin. Again, it’s a thing with which I try to change the classical scene a little bit in my own way. And I think that’s the thing that makes me different, that’s what I want to do.
[Pavel Šporcl, in an interview with Prague Radio, see]
Remind you of anyone? Perhaps some of the influence of Aston Villa FC’s most famous supporter, currently resident in Kraków, Poland, has seeped across the border into the neighbouring Czech Republic ...
Thankfully, though, apart from commissioning that trademark blue violin, Šporcl has so far avoided the personal excesses that brought Nigel Kennedy so much criticism (in 1991, for example, the then Controller of BBC Radio 3 John Drummond referred to him as "a Liberace for the Nineties" and attacked his "ludicrous clothes and grotesque, self-invented accent”.) So how does Šporcl fare in what he calls the “violin concert business”?
Interest in Korngold’s music has increased considerably in the past forty years and the violin concerto, initially derided as a Hollywood-derived potboiler, is now one of the best known of the composer’s works. Hence the Czech enters an increasingly competitive field (see our review index here and my colleague Nick Barnard’s review of the most recent recording).
You might assume, from the soloist’s own words, quoted above, that his might be a crowd-pleasing, superficial account. But in fact he gives us a perfectly respectable, if at times rather saccharine, performance. Just the opening few minutes give a good indication of what is to come, with Šporcl offering a far more dreamy and ruminative interpretation than can be heard on the benchmark Heifetz recording - still sounding very good for its age. It is all actually rather beautifully done and, if you are used only to the much more direct and driven Heifetz interpretation of the concerto, that may come as something of a surprise. The first two movements are especially successful with that approach but Šporcl is winningly vivacious, too, in the lively finale, where the interplay with the orchestra is particularly nicely constructed.
The Strauss concerto is a teenage composition, written, unsurprisingly, before the composer had found his distinctive musical voice. It has never really established itself in the regular repertoire. Strauss himself was eventually quite dismissive of it, remarking that “no one should have written a thing like that after Brahms”. But, putting the composer’s reservations about style to one side, the “thing” is nevertheless a more than competently written work that deserves an occasional outing.
Pavel Šporcl is clearly committed to giving it his best and his performance here is a most enjoyable one. Once again, he is slightly less direct and fleet of foot than some of his competitors. Thus, while Ulf Hoelscher (Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe, 1976) brings the first movement in at 14:58 and Xue-Wei (London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jane Glover, 1991) at 14:57, Šporcl takes 15:39. The tendency is even more marked in their respective timings for the presto finale - 7:48, 7:37 and 8:54. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this new and distinctive account very much.
I do, though, have a slight reservation regarding the acoustics of the Smetana Hall in Prague. While the recorded sound is certainly pleasantly warm, it is also rather resonant and so, while the soloist is very well recorded, the last degree of clarity within the orchestral ranks is sometimes lost. The audience’s response to these live performances is enthusiastic, all the same, as, on the whole, is my own.
Rob Maynard
Most enjoyable … see Full Review