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Journey East
Nemanja Radulović (violin)
rec. 2014, Teldec Studio, Berlin; Studios Davout, Paris
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 3361 [54:30]

Even if your regular listening is to Wagner operas and Bruckner symphonies you should occasionally listen to something lighter, and what better than music from the Balkans which so enthused Liszt and Brahms among others? Here we have the Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulović in a mixed programme which includes light classics, folk tunes and themes from films all executed with dazzling panache.

The disc is organised in an interesting way. Radulović is now based in Paris and had the idea of retracing his musical steps back to his home town of Niš in Serbia; hence the title of this disc. Several of the pieces have personal associations, and the booklet is helpfully specific about this. In the different pieces he works sometimes with Les Trilles du Diable, which is a quartet of violin, viola, cello and double bass, sometimes with Double Sens which is the same team expanded to the size of a small string ensemble. There are occasional extra players on the piano, cimbalon and percussion. For three numbers he works with the excellent Deutsches-Symphonie Berlin and the conductor Michail Jurowski. Most of the pieces have been arranged by Yvan Cassar, sometimes very freely: I hardly recognized Prokofiev’s March from The Love of Three Oranges when he had finished with it.

Every piece - except one - is designed to show off Radulović’s virtuosity and this is truly remarkable: he has a lustrous tone, precise intonation and his bow technique is as sparkling as you could wish. Double stops and harmonics are thrown off with the ease which this kind of music demands, and he can also bring out emotion and play very quietly. Not only is his work immaculate but so is that of the ensembles he works with. To this extent this is inauthentic: Liszt and Brahms, not to mention Bartók, would have been accustomed to something much rougher and some people might prefer it so. Here it is has been scrubbed up to the nines for a sophisticated audience who expect perfection. The recording is good too, and moves seamlessly across the ensembles of different sizes.
The exception to the rule of virtuosity is the last, the one vocal number, in which Radulović supports the folk singer Ksenija Milošević. It is entirely my own limitation that this kind of singing means nothing to me, though I know it does to many. I am not helped by the fact that apart from the title of her song, listed above, I have no idea what she is singing about as the booklet does not provide the words. Presumably they are in Serbian; a text and translation would have been welcome.

With this kind of disc it is normal to advise listeners not to listen to it all the way through but to pick individual items. I found that the concept of a musical journey back to Radulović’s childhood worked perfectly well as a coherent programme, and it is arranged in a way to vary fast and slow pieces, to mix classical and non-classical works and to keep a sense of unity through Radulović’s playing.

There are many other players of this kind, with similar though varying programmes. Roby Lakatos and Pavel Šporcl are two. I would really like to hear what Radulović could do if he applied his dazzling technique and fine musicianship to musically more challenging material, such as the sonatas of Bartók and Janáček or the Mythes of Szymanowski. As it is, this is a most enjoyable programme.

Stephen Barber

Track listing
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897) Hungarian Dance No. 1 In G Minor, WoO 1 [3:12] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Les Trilles du diable and Laure Favre-Kahn (piano)
Antonín DVORÁK (1841 - 1904) Songs my mother taught me, from Gypsy Songs, B. 104, Op. 55 [3:15] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens and Laure Favre-Kahn
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893) Danse Russe, from Swan Lake, Op.20 [4.17] with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Michail Jurowski
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903 - 1978) Sabre Dance, from Gayane [2:56] with arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens, Laure Favre-Kahn, Ludovit Kovač (cimbalon) and Nicolas Montazaud (percussion)
Sonja KALAJIC (b. 1977) Vatra suze (Tears of fire) [3:17]
Traditional Serbian Pašona kolo [2:43] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens, Laure Favre-Kahn and Nicolas Montazaud
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903 - 1978) Nocturne, from Masquerade [3:39] with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Michail Jurowski
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975) Romance, from The Gadfly Suite, Op. 97a with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Michail Jurowski
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953) March, from The Love For Three Oranges, Op.33 [1:35] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Les Trilles du diable and Laure Favre-Kahn
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) Theme, from Schindler's List [3:50] arr. Aleksandar Sedlar with Les Trilles du diable
Traditional Serbian Niška Banja (Gypsy Dance) [2:21] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens, Yvan Cassar (piano) and Nicolas Montazaud
Zoran SIMJANOVIĆ (b. 1946) Theme, from Petrijin venac (Petra’s wreath) [4:19] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens, Tijana Milošević (violin), Laure Favre-Kahn, and Ludovit Kovač
Emir KUSTURICA (b. 1954) and Dejan SPARAVALO (b. 1966) Ovo je muški svet (This is a man’s world) from Life Is A Miracle [4:20] arr. Aleksandar Sedlar with Les Trilles du diable
Vittorio MONTI (1868 - 1922) Csárdás [4:45] arr. Yvan Cassar, with Double Sens, Tijana Milošević, Laure Favre-Kahn, Ludovit Kovač and Nicolas Montazaud
Aleksander SARIEVSKI (1922-2002) Zajdi, zajdi, jasno sonce (Set, set, bright sun) [5:37] arr. Aleksandar Sedlar and Nemanja Radulović with Ksenija Milošević and Aleksandar Sedlar (guitar)