Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 (1878) [43:08]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53, B96/B108 (1879-82) [31:37]
Itzhak Perlman (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. November-December 1976, Medinah Temple, Chicago (Brahms); July 1974, All Saints Church, Tooting, London (Dvořák)

These are long admired recordings, the coupling of which makes sense given that both composers turned to Joseph Joachim as soloist, though he famously declined to play the Dvořák. The fact that they were written almost contemporaneously only adds to the aptness.

I’m sure readers will have their own views on the matter by now, given that these recordings are now well over thirty years old, but for those yet to experience them a few pointers will be in order. The Brahms is by far the more contentious performance. One’s appreciation will depend on how one views the rather expansive tempo set by the conductor in the first movement, one in which the soloist acquiesces. There is a very elastic sense of sometimes dark-hued lyricism in this reading, one that offers its own rather compelling view of a movement often taken in muscular fashion. The limitation of this approach is a sagging of tension, phrase ends trailing off, and moments where – to take one particular example – orchestral pizzicati sound sedentary rather than rhythmically supportive of the solo line. Melancholy is not far from the surface of this reading, but of a rather lateral kind. Certainly the cadenza is splendidly realised, and after it Perlman’s approach is the essence of sustained introspection, one that barely summons the will to proceed; all beautifully and inimitably executed by this masterful musician. Refined textures permeate the slow movement and, as Duncan Druce notes in his booklet notes, Perlman’s vibrato usage is perfectly deployed. When lesser musicians use such movements as opportunities exhaustingly to vary the speed and weight of their vibrato it can disturb the line; with Perlman everything is subtle and apposite and highly developed. The finale is buoyant but could perhaps be more so, although it possesses resilience. It is certainly consonant with Giulini’s measured and grave approach throughout.

For a long time the only LPs of the Dvořák on my shelves were those of Suk and Perlman. Both added the Romance in F minor. My Quintessence transfer of Suk and Ancerl (PMC7112, if my biographer is reading this) nestled - and still nestles - next to the EMI ASD3120 of Perlman and Barenboim. You could hardly go wrong, though having expensive tastes in practitioners of this work has made me sometimes impatient of other performances, though not of older players such as Príhoda and Martzy.

I still find the Perlman/Barenboim as wonderful and uplifting as ever. It’s full of delightful touches, warm and freshly lyric tone, a marvellous sense of ensemble, proper rhythmic pointing and a wholly admirable sense of direction. Sweet, tender, vibrant and dancing, that’s what it is, and admiration is undimmed.

This isn’t a dance competition, but if it were it would be 9 for the Dvořák and 7 for the Brahms.

Jonathan Woolf

This isn’t a dance competition, but if it were it would be 9 for the Dvořák and 7 for the Brahms.