A delightful collection of lightish French works for violin
and orchestra, which tickle the ear and gladden the soul. Lightish
to listen to, but a virtuoso minefield for the poor soloist,
for behind the very attractive façade is a veritable
smörgåsbord of technical difficulties. Virtuosi of
Shlomo Mintz’s calibre take these things in their stride
and make it all sound like child’s play. I am sure that
sometimes they wish it were!
Lalo’s marvellous Symphonie Espagnole is given
in the five movement version, and I feel that it works better
this way, for the work is fuller and more attractive. From a
performance point of view Mintz is in his element here, obviously
enjoying the music and having a good time playing it. The problem,
for me, is that Mehta’s accompaniment is too heavy for
this summer sunshine work. It’s too over-played with too
little humour and not enough smiles. Although a virtuoso work,
this is also a jeu d’esprit, and, as such, requires
the lightest of touches. Oddly, both Mintz’s and Mehta’s
views of the piece work fairly well together.
The Fifth Concerto by Henri Vieuxtemps was once a real
old war-horse, but I haven’t heard it in years. It may
have fallen out of the concert repertoire but there are still
17 different recordings of the piece by 16 different violinists
ranging from Lola Bobesco to Jascha Heifetz. Mintz and Mehta
are at one here and give a pleasant performance of a pleasant
work. There are no highs and lows in this piece, just a nice
walk in the musical countryside with some flashy passages and
thoughtful melodic material. It might not set the blood boiling
but it will give pleasure.
Saint-Saëns’s brilliant Introduction and Rondo
Capriccioso has always been a favourite amongst violinists,
and it’s easy to understand why this is. It has two contrasting
sections which allow the soloist to meditate and sparkle. There’s
not much for the orchestra to do, but that isn’t important
for we want to hear the fiddle scintillate, and that is what
Mintz does here.
If you don’t know them, this disk is a solid introduction
to all three works, but for real blistering interpretations,
I couldn’t be without Nathan Milstein live at Montreux,
on 11 September 1955 with L’Orchestre Nationale de Paris
under André Cluytens in the Lalo (Claves 50-2708 - coupled
with the Brahms Concerto live in 1960 with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester,
under Paul Kletzki) - this is the four movement version but
anything Milstein touched became pure gold and that is the case
here, so I forgive him his refusal to play the Intermezzo.
For the Saint-Saëns go to Michael Rabin with the Philharmonia
under Alceo Galliera (only available in a 6 CD set called The
Art of Michael Rabin, EMI Classics CMS 7 64123 2).