I have to say that I prefer Thomas Irnberger’s performance of Dvořák’s Concerto rather more than a number of fęted recent performances from better-known international soloists. He has the advantage of a native orchestra and conductor and this ensures that the rhythmic impulse of the work is well taken care of and, so too, the rustic dance elements. Whereas other conductors labour over bass lines – too Brucknerian – or allow too elastic an approach, Petr Altrichter is both sensible and sensitive. Irnberger’s impulses are almost always in the right direction. His opening phrase’s climactic note may be just a touch effortful and in one or two places he can appear just a touch over-prepared or a tiny bit perfunctory, but he establishes good tempi throughout and shows a resilience and characterful approach. He doesn’t wholly resist the tendency toward too much emotive throbbing in the slow movement, and elsewhere, but does manage to shape the line beautifully. I particularly like the way he deals with the folkloric episodes in the finale, where there’s plenty of village rusticity in his tone. Tonally, incidentally, he’s not always the most gleaming or beautiful of soloists. In fact his tone can be a touch rough in chording and his bowing energetic. Sometimes as well the lower strings sound a touch starved but only once or twice. He is above all a thoroughly communicative and gutsy player. Despite the quibbles, he maintains a rather Suk-like approach throughout and if neither he nor anyone else can match Vasa Příhoda’s intimate awareness of the concerto’s changeable moods and episodes, I like this performance’s honesty and whole-heartedness.
He plays the standard coupling, familiar from Suk, Perlman and others, which is the gorgeous Romance, Op.11 and it’s warmly phrased and of a piece with the Concerto. As a bonus in this violin-and-orchestra part of the disc, he and Altrichter also play the Mazurek, Op.49 which is much less-often encountered. The remainder of the programme is devoted to violin-and-piano pieces, and here he is joined by his regular sonata partner, the Czech pianist Pavel Kašpar. The recording venue here is the sympathetic one of the Mozartsaal, Salzburg. I’ve heard and liked Kašpar in Martinů – he recorded for Tudor where he was called Paul Kašpar - and he proves a laudable Dvořák player. The Sonatina is successfully played and the Larghetto
, the movement Kreisler took and often played separately, is finely done. The two encore pieces, the Slavonic Dance in G minor and the ubiquitous Humoresque, finish this mini-recital in some style.
Doubtless some listeners might have wanted a Czech all-orchestral disc, adding – say – the Janáček Concerto and the Suk Fantasy, or maybe even one of the Foerster Concertos. However, the focus here falls squarely on Dvořák and the resultant SACD disc, well recorded in both locations and attractively annotated, allows one to appreciate Irnberger’s Dvořák in the round.