Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D, Op 35 [35:46]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on Themes by Thomas Tallis [16:01]
Susanna Yoko Henkel (violin)
Duisburg Philharmonic/Jonathan Darlington
rec. 9 October 2009 (RVW), 3-4 February 2010 (Tchaikovsky), Philharmonie Mercatorhalle, Duisburg, Germany
ACOUSENCE ACO-CD 21510 [51:46]
So many Tchaikovsky violin concerto CDs, so little time. The threshold for any new recording of this work is unbelievably high, but the past decade has seen a few performers reach that bar or even raise it: Julia Fischer and her distinctive reading on PentaTone, Vadim Gluzman and his golden-toned romantic polish on BIS, and last year a commanding performance by my favorite living violinist, James Ehnes. This outing, a live recording by Susanna Yoko Henkel and the Duisburg Philharmonic, is perfectly good, but “perfectly good” does not mean “necessary”.
Doubts set in at the beginning, where the orchestral introduction proceeds too slowly. Indeed, Henkel and conductor Jonathan Darlington will take risks and enter appreciably into the excitement of the live atmosphere, but any moments of individuality or novel phrasing tend to be momentary slowings-down rather than dramatic flourishes. There’s a lot of indulgence of the second subject, for instance. Still, I did enjoy the first movement quite a bit. Henkel’s canzonetta is a showcase for her beautiful tone and emotional command, although I yearn for softer, more sensitive playing in some passages. The finale’s fast episodes are exciting but the slower ones again trip up the momentum. It’s a performance which shows that Susanna Yoko Henkel is quite good, but it’s also a performance you’d be much more likely to enjoy in concert than on disc.
The Tallis Fantasia suffers from a similar good-but-not-greatness. The opening chords reveal some weakness in the first violins, but fears based on that are unfounded: Jonathan Darlington has the full measure of this music, and it’s really a terrific performance from there on out, with a marvellous viola solo (the violin is harsher) and a glorious climax after 10:00. The Duisburg Philharmonic strings, while not always technically up to snuff, have obviously got the spirit of the music very right.
This CD, from the Acousence label, is part of the “Living Concert Series”, “planned to provide … a true ‘Concert’ experience”. This aim is supported by their use of live recordings. It’s also aided by truly superb liner-notes which actually exceed what you would get at most performances. The aim is, however, rather hindered by the way they’ve put their philosophy into practice. For one thing, to have a major concerto followed by a rather sizeable orchestral encore is to create a program one would never see in concert. This is just 52 minutes of music. It would make more sense to present the Vaughan Williams, then the concerto, then a twenty-five minute symphony.
For another thing, these recordings do not even come from the same concert! The Tallis Fantasia was recorded in late 2009 and the concerto five months later. The sound quality is, I’ll admit, as good as it gets for live recordings, though certainly not about to leave the sound of, say, the LPO or CSO Resound labels in the dust. As a “true ‘Concert’ experience” this is somewhat lacking. Use your stereo equipment, or computer’s CD burning software, to assemble a program of Leonid Kogan’s live Tchaikovsky and John Barbirolli’s or André Previn’s Vaughan Williams; that will save your cash.
Good enough, but “good enough” does not translate to desirable or necessary.
Masterwork Index: Tallis Fantasia ~~ Tchaikovsky violin concerto