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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1903 rev 1907) [32:22]
Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978)
Violin Concerto No.1 in F minor, Op.11 (1921) [32:02]
Svetlin Roussev (violin)
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
rec. 2012/13, National Radio Studio No.1, Sofia, Bulgaria
FONDAMENTA FON-1402016 [65:04]

I’d say that this is an unusual coupling were it not for the fact that anything is an unusual coupling that includes Pancho Vladigerov’s Violin Concerto No.1 – or, indeed, No.2. So, full marks to Fondamenta for allowing the Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev and the country’s national radio orchestra to promote this work. Opportunities to hear it are limited and though I’ve heard Valentin Zhuk’s old performance with Boris Khaikin on a Melodiya LP from around 1971, I no longer have it. Georgi Badev and Emil Kamilarov are soloists who have also recorded the work, during a period which coincided with the composer’s last years but since his death interest seems to have dwindled.

Whilst some of his smaller works for violin were popular, and soloists such as David Oistrakh played them, the concertos – large scale and hugely appealing, colourful works – haven’t quite engendered that level of enthusiasm. Which, again, is where one can appreciate the commitment of Roussev, conductor Emil Tabakov and the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony. It’s fortunate that Roussev was engaged. I’ve reviewed a disc of his before – Medtner and Grieg – and it was clear from the former that Roussev is a powerful tonalist with a strong sense of the music’s architectural spine.

The Concerto was written in Zurich - where Vladigerov had been born, though he was raised in western Bulgaria - in 1920 and premiered the following year in Berlin. Fritz Reiner was the conductor and Gustav Havermann the soloist. It’s cast in a traditional three-movement format though it plays without breaks. The Bulgarian composer’s assimilation of late-Romanticism and elements of impressionism – subsidiary to the romanticist colours, it has to be said – generate music of vehemence and richness, and it’s splendidly orchestrated. The fiery start with its phantasmagorical wind shrieks prepare the listener fort the journey to come – a veritable windcsape with blustery harp runs and brittle interjections. But there is lyricism too, and there are pockets of brilliantly suggestive writing, such as the mordant orchestral laughs and the plush Straussian richness of the music. Brass and percussion writing are second nature to Vladigerov, but in the central movement he fines down the orchestral choirs to those that most appositely support the almost Delian melodic curve of the solo line. The harp once again plays a prominent role and is quite forwardly balanced. The zesty dance that unleashes the finale is accompanied by a lovely lyric tune for the solo violin. Roussev digs deeply into the string for the terpsichorean moments and brings charisma and tonal richness to the solo role. There is a real concerto of equals, where the orchestral soundworld is as distinctive as the soloist’s. The performance is full of personality and panache.

The coupling does indeed bear out the ‘fire and ice’ element that pervades the disc. Roussev and Tabakov takes a quite spacious view of Sibelius’ Concerto. Roussev plays with quite a bit of rubato but his is a passionately icy view of the work – as broad as Ida Haendel’s but with a combative and assertive element all his own, quite the opposite of Anja Ignatius’ wartime reading. Though he began violin studies in his native country they continued in Paris where he studied with a superior triumvirate - Gérard Poulet, Devy Erlih and Jean-Jacques Kantorow, and some elements of his playing put me in mind of Erlih in particular. His metrical elasticity is allied to a broad and rich tone and whilst I found the finale somewhat underwhelming, and the orchestra less engaged than in the Vladigerov, I respected Roussev’s playing.

Few will want this release for the oft-recorded Sibelius, but the Vladigerov is another matter entirely and well worth hearing. The booklet is practical and helpful, and there is a surprise of sorts in the card foldout: there are two CDs - a ‘Fidelity’ CD for audio systems and a ‘Mobility’ disc for computers, car sounds systems and ‘nomad’ perambulation.

Jonathan Woolf



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