From the very first violin chords of the Stravinsky you know you are in for a special experience. Kopatchinskaja makes you sit up and take notice, much as she did in her earlier recording
of concertos by Bartók, Ligeti, and Eötvös. That disc, which I had the pleasure of reviewing here, was one of my favourite discs of 2013 and won Gramophone
’s Recording of the Year award. It has also been nominated for a Grammy. I would not be surprised if this one, too, receives its share of awards. Gwyn Parry-Jones
already reviewed it on this website and designated it as a “Recording of the Month”, an accolade with which I am in complete accord.
The Stravinsky Concerto is from the composer’s neo-classical period and some performers play the work with chaste character as though the concerto belonged to another era. Kopatchinskaja will have none of that. Hers is a big, bold performance that captures all the drama and humour in the score while observing the Baroque structure. The timings of individual movements do not differ from most performances, but she invests so much character into her account that it seems as if we are hearing the concerto for the first time. She can be powerful and dramatic in the first movement, warm and lyrical in the two “arias,” and incisive and spirited in the finale where one is swept off one’s feet. For all of this she is strongly aided by a superb London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski. It is a true dialogue between soloist and orchestra with much delicious wind detail apparent throughout. Horns and bassoons are particularly outstanding. I haven’t heard the orchestral part so clearly since Viktoria Mullova’s recording
with Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Philips) from the late 1990s. An example is the tuba and bass drum near the end of the last movement. On most recordings you are very aware of the bass drum, but the tuba is inaudible. No doubt this is partly due to the recording itself, though Jurowski must be responsible for the perfect balance.
Appended to the concerto is a cadenza that Kopatchinskaja herself composed because Stravinsky did not include one in the work. The cadenza is not meant to be inserted into the concerto but to stand as a separate piece. It is quite creative, utilizing themes from the concerto, but also very individual. In some ways it recalls the cadenza Kopatchinskaja composed for her recording of the Ligeti Violin Concerto. She is joined in the cadenza by LPO leader Pieter Schoeman.
Contrasting with the Stravinsky Concerto is Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2. Prokofiev composed it after returning to the Soviet Union and successfully fulfilling the requirements of “Soviet Music”. Nonetheless, he remained true to himself, as he did in the ballet Romeo and Juliet
composed in the same year. Lyricism may be predominant in this work, but it also is not without its spikier elements. As in the Stravinsky, Kopatchinskaja does not shortchange either element. Hers is a highly individual account in the way she begins the first movement very stealthily with straight tone and then builds from there. Likewise, she enters the second movement extremely quietly with only a wisp of tone and little vibrato. It is magical. At the same time, she plays the second theme with all-embracing warmth. The orchestra, too, greatly contributes to this with luscious woodwinds. Jurowski and Kopatchinskaja set the perfect andante
tempo for this movement-flowing, with the pizzicato rhythm as steady as a clock’s ticking. Kopatchinskaja then treats the finale as a danse macabre
. She includes a whimsical note in the booklet where she has the two concertos portrayed as contrasting characters at a masked ball. There she describes the finale’s castanets as not so much Spanish as like “rattling skeletons.” This is an apt description of her take on the work’s finale. That said, comparing her account with two others, Gil Shaham’s with Previn and the LSO (DG) and Maxim Vengerov’s with Rostropovich and the LSO (Warner), I did not find as much difference in the last movement as in her approach to the first and second movements. However, I have never heard such a range of colours from a violin as Kopatchinskaja produces in these works.
The CD booklet not only contains Kopatchinskaja’s personal note, but also a lucid discussion of the concertos by Jean-François Boukobza. In addition, there is a much-deserved listing of the London Philharmonic musicians and notes on the soloist, conductor, and orchestra. The only criticism I have is the rather short duration of the disc. It is a shame these artists did not include the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, as there would have been plenty of room. I know of other recordings with all three concertos on the same disc. Never mind. Such is the music-making here that one does not feel at all short-changed. No one should miss this wonderful CD.
Previous review: Gwyn Parry-Jones
(December 2013 Recording of the Month)