Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Concerto Russe, for violin and orchestra, op.29 [29:04]
Romance-Sérénade, for violin and orchestra (1877) [5:47]
Fantaisie-Ballet, for violin and orchestra (1885) [9:00]
Guitare, for violin and orchestra, op.28 (orch. Gabriel Pierné) [3:04]
Piano Concerto (1888) [23:38]
Jean-Jacques Kantorow (violin)
Pierre-Alain Volondat (piano)
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Kees Bakels
rec. Concert Hall, Tapiola, Finland, May 2011
BIS-SACD-1890 [71:36]  

This CD is a follow-up, tardy but gratifying, to BIS-CD-1680 (2009, review), which featured most of the rest of Lalo's concertante works. These included the French composer’s best-loved violin concerto of sorts, the Symphonie Espagnole

Next to that much-recorded work, the four-movement Concerto Russe ('Russian') is rather disappointingly neglected by violinists, even though it is, in effect, more of the same splendid stuff, only less Spanish and a little more Russian! Written like the Symphonie for Lalo's friend and inspiration, the famous Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, the Concerto Russe had a bad start when Sarasate, for reasons no longer known, would not perform it. Lalo wrote to him respectfully, but pointing out "Nobody is infallible, and this time you are wrong."
Despite the inclusion of genuine folk tunes in places, there is nothing particularly Slavic about the Concerto - the overall aesthetic is more Franco-Germanic, with the odd dash of Iberia again. Whatever national colours are evoked, Lalo's writing is unabashedly late-Romantic: highly lyrical, virtuosic, expressive, rhetorical. Jean-Jacques Kantorow gives a typically breathtaking account of the work, dialoguing telepathically with the orchestra he has conducted for several years, and indicating strongly that Sarasate was indeed wrong to give it a miss.
The Romance-Sérénade was written for another violinist, Paul Viardot, and the emphasis is very much on the soloist, who soliloquises romantically and brilliantly almost non-stop, with the orchestra mainly colouring in the background. Why concert violinists today do not make more of this audience-enchanter is quite a mystery. Ditto the Fantaisie-Ballet, yet another work Lalo dedicated to Sarasate. Its virtuosic nature and Spanish dance rhythms must have appealed greatly to him too. Both works are similar in mood and style to the two Romances for violin and orchestra of Saint-Saëns, or indeed parts of his violin concertos. 
Lalo wrote the short Guitare for violin and piano, which Gabriel Pierné later arranged very deftly for violin and orchestra, the tambourine giving the work an even stronger Spanish ambience. The Piano Concerto, Lalo's last major work, opens with a heroic theme that sounds somehow famous, redolent in spirit to Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto or Shostakovich's Assault on Beautiful Gorky - certainly not Schumann, as Jean-Pascal Vachon suggests in his notes. Vachon writes that the lack of a cadenza is a significant reason for its absence from the repertoire, but perhaps it is simply that 20th-century connoisseurs, performers and critics alike, think it too flamboyant or even vulgar for it to have any real depth, consigning it to the same fate as those meritorious specimens by Anton Rubinstein. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the Piano Concerto is no great masterpiece, certainly not in the same league as those by Saint-Saëns, but it is an attractively energetic and tuneful work that deserves an occasional concert outing, especially when played with as much élan as Pierre-Alain Volondat provides here.
The Tapiola Sinfonietta is a decent little orchestra, and has made several impressive recordings for BIS, almost always conducted by Jean-Jacques Kantorow. Their most recent together was released earlier this year: Kalevi Aho's Chamber Symphonies (review). Kees Bakels is probably better known as an opera conductor, but he and the Sinfonietta give an appealing, if sometimes strait-laced account of Lalo's music.
Rather surprisingly, sound quality is, for BIS at least, less than immaculate: there is a perceptible lack of depth to the strings that hints at lossiness. The drop is pretty small, however, imperceptible in the three smaller works - perhaps the Piano Concerto and Concerto Russe were recorded on a different day. Older ears may not even notice, but the 'super audio' designation seems in this case misplaced. The notes by Vachon, in English, German and French, are detailed, informative and well written.
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An appealing, if sometimes strait-laced account of Lalo's music.