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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82 (1905) [20:00]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (1917) [21:22]
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932)
Stihira - Hymn for the Millenary of the Christianisation of Russia (1987) [22:14]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC/Mstislav Rostropovich
rec. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC, 4-7 March 1988
ERATO 2564 613136 [63:36]

This disc has, until now, escaped MusicWeb International's review net. This is despite having been reissued at mid-price on Warner Elatus 0927490142 in 2006. It first came out at premium price, as you would expect given the violinist's super-stardom and has elite sound to match. That was in 1989 on Erato ECD 75506. It emphatically deserves to be included in Warner's Original Jacket reissues line.

We can crib about the rather threadbare presentation. There are acres of blank space in the booklet and a good but brief essay in three languages accompanies the track-listing. That said, the music-making is the stuff of exultation. Mutter is in imperial form. She brings to the microphone an avalanche of character and breathtakingly visceral virtuosity. This is at the service of a challengingly fresh imagination. Rostropovich is in his element too in this Russian repertoire. The orchestral contribution is no also-ran in the concertos and is centre-stage in the Shchedrin.

These three works - each around the twenty minute mark - are not long-winded in relation to the ideas they bring to the listener's ears. The Glazunov from 1905 is a treat. This stands in a gloriously Tchaikovskian lineage that melds melody and drama aplenty with succinct expressive discipline. Both soloist and conductor have already established their credentials with Tchaikovsky so their qualities here come as no surprise. There's not a single time-served moment about this. I have praised recordings by Sivo, Hanslip and Barton-Pine in the past and this belongs in their company. The Glazunov is here presented in a single track. The three-movement Prokofiev, written a dozen years after the Glazunov, is astonishingly highly coloured and must surely have influenced Walton in his 1930s Violin Concerto. It speaks the language of Russian fairy-tales: dangerous, seductive, enchanting and threatening - no effete fairies here; no Disney saccharine. Mutter has all this under her lightning-agile hands and fingers. She paints the music as if it were a tremendously detailed full-colour graphic novel. I will not be discarding the shivery Szigeti recording despite its ancient sound but this certainly jostles other estimable later versions from Sivo, Sit kovetsky and Oistrakh. The First consistently grips my attention where I struggle with Prokofiev's Second. If we are to have one of the two this is the one I am pleased Mutter went for.

Shchedrin's Stihira for orchestra alone (no solo violin here) is very much of the late-twentieth century. Its devotional and unhurried bearing is clear. It's an impressive work that will please those who love the new-spirituality minimalism of composers such as John Tavener. There's nothing showy here - only unwavering concentration. The humming strings will have you believing you are hearing a Russian Orthodox church choir in procession and going about its devotions. Honeyed woodwind outline a calmly chanted counterpoint. Later the strings take on a tortured and buzzingly razor-sharp role. Bells, percussion, trumpets and piano provide an underscore of angst, tragedy, violence and majesty. The effect is at times searing, statuesque and even panic-stricken. If you enjoy Pärt's Cantus then this work should appeal although that parallel provides a departure-point rather than a complete pre-echo of the Shchedrin. Stihira was written for Rostropovich and his Washington orchestra.

A disc you may have overlooked. It would be an error to miss this even if you struggle with the concept of matching the Shchedrin with two refulgent romantic concertos; sacred and profane side by side.

Rob Barnett


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