Always ready to reveal the extent of my own ignorance, let me announce that before I received this disc for review I didn’t know that Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s son was an eminent violinist. I’m assuming that his mother is Victoria Postnikova, so his musical talent is hardly surprising. He plays here two Russian concertos with a fine Russian orchestra and his father on the podium.
Glazunov’s concerto is set unconventionally in a single movement; a first section Moderato and a final Allegro are separated by a cadenza. It is a glorious work. The first section is life-enhancingly melodic, with a particularly gorgeous tune slightly less than five minutes in, first given by the soloist on the violin’s lowest string. Only a very few notes in livelier passages might lead the listener to wonder if the composer is spinning them. The cadenza mulls over several tunes before leading into a final section full of fanfares and dancing rhythms. Drones add to the folk-like atmosphere, and if the musical material is less consistently distinguished than earlier in the work the colourful orchestration and brilliant writing for the solo instrument make up for it. In any event the work is irresistible, twenty minutes of sheer pleasure. Rozhdestvensky the younger is more than equal to its considerable technical challenges and his violin sings ardently when it should. His father and the superb orchestra support him splendidly, and the recording is lifelike and immediate.
Competition is stiff, particularly from Julia Fischer’s lovely version on Pentatone. Then there is Heifetz, incomparable in his own way, but his own way doesn’t appeal to this particular listener – too driven – who feels sure that anyone coming to the work through Rozhdestvensky’s performance will be delighted by it.
If the Shostakovich performance were of the same quality the disc would be an absolute winner. The soloist has all or most of the notes of this fiendish score under his belt, but there are a few disappointments. The very opening, for example, is hardly piano, neither from the orchestral strings nor from the soloist himself when he enters at bar 5, thus robbing the beginning of the work of its mystery. Mystery is also strangely absent in the sublime passage beginning around 5:20 (figure 11 in the score). Then the next passage, with its violin triplets (figure 12) is just too loud, sounding almost perfunctory, as does the following choral-like passage for winds, marked pianissimo. No, this first movement is short on atmosphere, hardly representative of its title, “Nocturne”. The following Scherzo goes bitingly well, though not every listener will appreciate the deliberately acerbic sound the soloist adopts for his opening octaves. The Passacaglia, too, is very well done, the horns suitably doom-laden at the beginning, with the soloist’s singing tone bringing the right note of consolation when required. I’ve never heard the tuba so prominent at figure 74 (around 4:50). Marked forte, the composer nonetheless added the indication non troppo (“not too much”), and the effect here is surprising, even rather odd. The closing pages are superbly atmospheric, almost as if performers and listeners alike are holding their collective breath. If you wanted to be pernickety you could say that some of the bottom Gs in the quadruple-stopped chords in the cadenza were inaudible, but otherwise this is a pretty stunning virtuoso display. There seem to be moments in the finale where father, son or both want to avoid over-excitement by easing back the tempo. What a pity! The performance is exciting enough in its own terms, but lacks the wildness, bordering on madness, that other performers have brought to it. If Rozhdestvensky can more than hold his own in the Glazunov, and that in spite of figures such as Heifetz, in the Shostakovich he is up against David Oistrakh. The latter’s live performance from the 1962 Edinburgh Festival (BBC Legends
) with the Philharmonia and, coincidentally, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, sports a finale more than half a minute faster than the present one. Oistrakh plays with astonishing accuracy, but more importantly, he plays like a man possessed. What else could the audience do but go wild? This is very hard on Sasha Rozhdestvensky who, on this well-presented disc – particular mention for an excellent essay by Paul Conway – has produced a fine performance of one of the greatest of all violin concertos and an outstanding one of Glazunov’s lovable work.
also reviews by Gavin Dixon and Rob Barnett