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Contrasts Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957) Concerto for violin and orchestra in D minor Op. 47 [32:39] Arnold SCHÖNBERG (1874 – 1951)
Concerto for violin and orchestra, Op. 36 [31:02]
Liana Isakadze (violin)
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev
rec. 1980 (Sibelius); 1981 (Schoenberg)
Schoenberg previously issued in 1989 on Olympia OCD135 MELODIYA MELCD1002221 [63:44]
More than 25 years ago – I believe – I went to a summer festival concert with the Georgian Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Liana Isakadze who also was the violin soloist. They played Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony op. 110a – Rudolf Barshai’s transcription of String Quartet No. 8 – in a stunningly gripping reading and also – I am not sure of the order – Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The latter seized me by the throat from the first bar and kept the grip until the very end. I was totally overwhelmed. Never had someone attacked that music with such ferocity, with such uninhibited force – even physically, visually. Music stands were knocked over – it was like a tornado and I am sure the audience were just as exhausted as the soloist when the concert was over. Can baroque music sound like this? Yes, it can when Liana Isakadze gets free reins. I’ve never come across her again after that, either live or on records. Until now.
Isakadze was born in 1946 in Tbilisi in Georgia, then a republic within the Soviet Union. Very early she showed uncommonly great musical talent. At the age of ten she took part in the Moscow International Festival Competition, where David Oistrakh was the chairman. He quickly became her teacher and mentor. Since 1965 she has had a busy career as soloist and chamber musician and has recorded violin concertos by Taktakishvili, Machavariani, Nasidze and Mansurian.
In these two concertos, recorded in 1980 and 1981, she is caught at the height of her powers. She is just as overwhelming as when I heard her but in quite different repertoire. She has a way of digging into a work with such earnestness and such devotion that the music feels at times over-sized. Sibelius’s violin concerto is a great work and its soaring melodies are heavenly in whatever performance you hear – so does it need extra devotion? I have loved this music for several decades. Salvatore Accardo’s Philips recording with Colin Davis was a favourite on LP (CD review). Later I acquired on CD Cho-Liang Lin with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and that has been my benchmark recording for quite some time. Coupled with Carl Nielsen’s concerto it is a recording to return to, well balanced and with marvellous solo playing. I will never separate from that disc. However Ms Isakadze’s ‘extra devotion’, as I prefer to call it, adds a dimension that is hard to define but attracted me with the same intensity as those Vivaldi concertos all those years ago. It may not be as refined as Lin/Salonen and maybe I need to be in that special mood that I happened to be in when I listened the first time and which pervaded when I played it again a couple of days later. The grand, robust playing of the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Lazarev adds further to the overall experience. That the jury of the Jean Sibelius International Competition in Helsinki in 1970 awarded Liana Isakadze a special prize for her reading of this concerto only supports my view further.
The coupling is rather odd. Arnold Schönberg’s concerto, the first work he wrote in the United States, where he had to go after the Nazis came to power in Germany, has been admired but hardly loved, either by the public or by soloists. I have to admit that I have not been the most eager advocate for the work either. That said, Liana Isakadze’s wholehearted approach actually made me rethink my attitude. She was the only Soviet violinist who played this concerto and still seems to be. Schönberg confessed late in life: “I was not destined to continue in the manner of Transfigured Night or Gurre-Lieder or even Pelléas and Melisande. The Supreme Commander had ordered me on a harder road. But a longing to return to the older style was always vigorous in me, and from time to time I had to yield to that urge.” A romantic at heart he obviously was, of which his Chamber Symphony No. 2 (begun in 1906 but not completed until 1939) is ample proof. The violin concerto predates the symphony by only three years and even though it is built on a twelve-note row it has a melodious quality that after a couple of listens is quite catchy.
I know my affection for this disc is very personal and I can understand people who will find it overheated, maybe even vulgar. For a general recommendation of the Sibelius, which probably is the selling-point here, I would unhesitatingly go for Cho-Liang Lin (review). Those wanting this particular coupling also have an alternative: a DG recording with Hilary Hahn conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. I haven’t heard it but have seen some rave reviews. Liana Isakadze will for the future occupy an honoured place in my collection.