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Russian Violin Concertos
Julius CONUS (1869-1942)
Violin Concerto in E minor (1898) [23:44]
Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Violin Concertino, op.42 (1948) [19:08]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Violin Concerto in A minor, op.54 (1891) [21:55]
Sergey Ostrovsky (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
rec. The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, England, 1-2 June 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572631 [64:47]

Experience Classicsonline

This attractive release brings together three violin concertos by lesser-known Russian-based composers. They’re in sparkling interpretations by yet another gifted Russian violinist and a fine conductor following in his late father Kurt's illustrious footsteps.
Though Mieczysław Weinberg's powerful Violin Concerto in G minor was released nearly a decade ago on Naxos (review), the Concertino has not been recorded before. Weinberg is one of numerous 'Soviet' composer often damned with faint praise by critics, but where such treatment may be justifiable in Arensky's and Conus's case - the former died at 45 and left a relatively small body of music, whilst the latter is only known by his Violin Concerto - received wisdom outside Poland and Russia is wrong about Weinberg. The Concertino, in any case, is something rather different from him. Those who are familiar with many or any of his symphonies - perhaps from the continuing Chandos series, the latest fine volume of which was reviewed here - may not recognise the cogitative, altogether more pastoral, almost British style used in this work, which pulses with understated brilliance.
Conus's name, incidentally, is far better transcribed 'Yuly Konyus', the version favoured by Chandos and, indeed, Naxos in their biographical note. This reduces the temptation to call him Cone-us, when Kun-yoos is much more accurate. He did spend twenty years in Paris, which is presumably where the present transcription arose, but even French sources frequently use 'Konyus'. For that matter, Arensky should be 'Aryensky', but chances of reversion there are slim.
By coincidence, Naxos released a historical recording of Konyus's Violin Concerto only last year, played by Jascha Heifetz on a delicious menu featuring two great opp.35 in D, the Violin Concertos of Tchaikovsky and Korngold (review). Heifetz whizzes through the Konyus Concerto in less than 19 minutes, compared with Ostrovsky's 24; the biggest difference between the two lies in the first movement, which Ostrovsky takes at a leisurely pace.
A more recent 1980s recording by Sergei Stadler with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic also features Arensky's Concerto (review), which has been recorded more often than the Konyus, most notably and recently by Ilya Gringolts under Ilan Volkov on Hyperion (review). - again, a considerably nippier account than Ostrovsky's.
Neither the Konyus nor the Arensky are especial favourites with critics, it must be said, and nor are they 'big tune' concertos. Even so, audiences enjoy them and they have remained in the concert repertoire, especially in Russia. No wonder, either: they are both appealing, mellifluous works, modest yet beguiling. The Konyus is reminiscent, at least in spirit, of Glazunov's Concerto, which it actually predates by several years, with allusions to Tchaikovsky and Dvořák here and there. The cadenza near the end is dramatic and scintillating. Arensky's Concerto is similar in many ways - a minor key, contrasted sections cast in one continuous movement lasting between 20 and 25 minutes and subtle yet attractive orchestration. Stylistically the influence of Tchaikovsky is more apparent.
Superior performances from Ostrovsky, Sanderling and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are reinforced by good sound quality. The CD booklet notes by Richard Whitehouse are well written and informative.
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