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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 77 [38:07]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 [23:45]
Hideko Udagawa (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. 21 and 23 May 1989, Henry Wood Hall, London
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6270 [61:52]

Nimbus Alliance is to be commended for its enterprising spirit in offering international distribution to recordings licensed to them but not of their genesis. Equally laudable, as is set forth in their spiel, is their willingness to ‘consider projects from new artists trying to find a home for recordings they have made privately or from mature artists who find that their back catalogue is no longer available due to changing fashion or industry mergers’. The present recording, dating from 1989, was previously released on Chandos CHAN8974 and now makes a welcome return.
 
This is my first encounter with the playing of Hideko Udagawa, and I am mightily impressed. She studied with the great Russian violin virtuoso Nathan Milstein, inheriting from him a prodigious technique and considerable communicative powers. Since then she has built a considerable international career. As well as the mainstream repertoire, she has a particular interest in unrecorded works, having set down for Signum (SIGCD164) the complete works for piano and violin by Sergei Rachmaninov with the pianist Konstantin Lifschitz. There are also CDs of the works of Khachaturian for violin and piano (Nimbus) and of violin and orchestra works by Liapunov and Khachaturian (Signum). The booklet sums up admirably her artistry: ‘passionate commitment, dazzling agility and refinement of taste’. I couldn’t put it better myself, and all of those elements are in these two concerto performances in good measure.
 
The Brahms is a big-boned performance. From the dramatic entrance of the violin in the first movement, it is clear that Udagawa means business. She projects a muscular tone, essential in my mind for this work, mapping the contours of drama, passion and lyricism throughout the narrative. The Joachim cadenza is dispatched with bravura and panache. The second movement opens with an ardently phrased oboe solo, setting the stage for a ravishingly played adagio. Then follows a crisply incisive third movement with Mackerras providing an orchestral accompaniment of great energy and gusto.
 
I was interested to read that Udagawa made her orchestral debut in London with the London Symphony Orchestra under this conductor in the Bruch Concerto. I presume this recording was made in the same time-frame, though its not indicated in the notes. This is a beautifully managed performance of unshowy virtuosity. The slow movement is poetic in its stance, with the violinist savouring the moment. Mackerras provides admirable support at all times.
 
Sound quality and balance between solo instrument and orchestra is top-notch. Do we need another recording of two well-represented concertos? My feeling is that these two offer a new take on a pair of well-trodden warhorses of the violin concerto repertoire. There’s certainly nothing routine here, and this release would grace any CD collection.
 
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Brahms concerto ~~ Bruch concerto 1