Prokofiev and Rachmaninov have often shared a disc in the past, but usually in the piano concerto genre. The Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto has little in common with Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, but both works certainly contain enough lyricism to attract partisans of both composers, especially in these lush readings.
Geneviève Laurenceau (b. 1977 in Strasbourg) offers a highly individual and convincing account of the Prokofiev. At 28:19, she turns in one of the slower versions of the concerto, although it sounds moderately paced most of the time. She has a rich powerful tone, which is evident from her opening solo statement of the main theme. Her phrasing of the meltingly beautiful alternate theme points up the Romantic tendencies in Prokofiev, the fellow who turned out bewitching melodies in Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and the still-underrated Seventh Symphony. The development section is brimming with tension, though Laurenceau deftly relaxes for reminiscences of the alternate theme, before returning to the fireworks.
She treats the big theme in the second movement with a ravishing lushness, as well. The lively middle section comes off splendidly too, Laurenceau imparting a more songful character to the theme than is usual. Her finale is riveting, the closing pages ranking in excitement with almost any other recording. Heifetz recorded the work twice for RCA, in 1937 and 1959, and while the first was marginally better, the second, in good stereo, had superior sound. Perlman recorded it three times, and his third effort, on Erato (a live 1993 performance), despite some flaws, was thrilling, especially in the finale. Other excellent versions include Chung/Decca, Mintz/DG, Ricci/Decca (not his Vox version though), Mullova/Philips and Vengerov/Teldec. Vengerov might hold a very slight edge here, but Laurenceau’s Romantic approach — with a measure of dazzling virtuosity — Sokhiev’s alert conducting, and Naïve’s vivid and powerful sound make this recording strongly competitive with the best. Laurenceau then is certainly a violinist to watch.
Russian conductor Tugan Sokhiev (b. 1977) paces the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances moderately and draws accurate, committed playing from his Toulouse players. He’s been principal conductor of the orchestra since 2008 and apparently works well with the ensemble. They play Rachmaninov with a nice combination of the “mud-and-sugar” elements that Roy Harris noted in the Russian composer’s style: the orchestra can convincingly turn on the heart-on-sleeve character in the music, as in the first movement’s middle section, and can revel in the Dies irae-inspired menace in the finale. Sokhiev conducts with a real sense for Rachmaninov’s expressive manner, from the bouncy charm of the opening movement’s outer sections to the stately gloom of the second movement waltz and to the unsettling, often spasmodic character of the finale. This is a polished yet muscular performance, well accented and spirited in every way. It must be ranked with other excellent versions, which include Previn/EMI, Bychkov/Profil and Slatkin/Vox. Again, the sound is vivid and powerful. In sum, this disc offers perhaps the two most important Russian composers of the 20th century in equally compelling performances of major works.