Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35 [33:49] Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Les Noces [23:24]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
rec. 27 April–1 May 2014, PI Tchaikovsky State Opera and Ballet Theatre, Perm (concerto); 24, 25, 27 October 2013, Teatro Real, Madrid (Les Noces)
Texts not included SONY CLASSICAL 88875165122 [57:13]
I have not previously encountered the work of either soloist or conductor. Robert Hugill was positive about Currentzis’s recording of the Mozart Requiem (review) while Michael Cookson praised his contribution to another, very different undertaking, Weinberg’s opera The Passenger (review). On the other hand, Marc Bridle was more equivocal about his recently-issued recording of Le Sacre du Printemps (review). Patricia Kopatchinskaja won praise from Leslie Wright for her recording of concertos by Stravinsky and Prokofiev (review) and he was impressed also by her recording of concertos by twentieth century Hungarian composers (review). I infer from the booklet that hitherto she has focused primarily on modern music and has only fairly recently begun to explore music from the Romantic era.
A sticker affixed to the front of this CD announces the collaboration between Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Teodor Currentzis as “A marriage of maverick minds”. Would this prove to be merely a case of over-exuberance on the part of someone in Sony’s PR department? Alas, no.
The first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto suffers from what to my ears is an excess of self-conscious phrasing and dynamics on the part of the soloist especially. To compound the problem she and the conductor continually distort the tempo and as a result I could get no sense of flow or structure as the movement unfolded. The soloist in particular seems to pull the music all over the place. That’s presumably done for expressive effect but it all becomes self-defeating. In short, the movement simply doesn’t hang together. The sound of the orchestra is on a smaller scale than we are accustomed to hearing – there’s nothing wrong with that. That, I imagine, will be because, as Kopatchinskaja says in the booklet “we played on gut strings and period winds”. The movement features many extremes of tempo in this performance. Most of them are slow extremes but the last couple of minutes are the musical equivalent of an express train. Along the way there are a few bright spots. One such is a wonderfully limpid flute solo at the end of the cadenza – preceded by some exquisite trills by Kopatchinskaja (11:46). Sadly, however, such occasions are insufficient to redeem the performance as a whole.
The opening of the slow movement has an extraordinary veiled quality to it – here the gut strings make a real difference. At this point the music is very hushed and even if it is a bit extreme I was captivated by it. However, this self-communing style is rather overdone as the movement progresses. At least, though, there’s a merciful absence of excessive tempo manipulations. The finale opens at a very fast basic tempo. In fact the swiftness that pervades the opening minute or so made me wonder if the overall timing of 10:01 was correct. I should have known: the timing is correct because as soon as the second subject is reached – and at every time subsequently that the slower material is reprised – the brakes are slammed on and the performance becomes very expansive. The trouble with these extremes of fast and slow tempi is that there’s no sense of proportion between the quick virtuoso passages and the more reflective lyrical episodes. The ending is superficially exciting but I had the impression that the music was being played so quickly “because we can”.
I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this performance one bit. At best it’s indulgent, at worst it’s perverse. Having finished this reviewing assignment I can’t imagine I would ever wish to hear it again. I’m all for a fresh approach to standard repertoire – such as the recordings by François Xavier Roth and Les Siècles, for instance - but this Tchaikovsky performance is too extreme. Others may respond more positively than I have but I can only advise proceeding with caution. It might have helped if we’d been given some inkling of what it was that the performers were trying to achieve in approaching the concerto but, as we shall see, this is not made apparent.
I’m much less familiar with Les Noces and it’s not music to which I instinctively warm. It seems to me, though, that this performance conveys well the raw, uninhibited “peasant” sound-world that Stravinsky was seeking to evoke. The rhythms are tight and punchy throughout and Currentzis is well served by four committed vocal soloists – the soprano and tenor especially – and by a robust choir. The excitement and eagerness of ‘At the Bride’s House’ is palpable while the Wedding Feast itself is boisterous and vibrant.
I mentioned a moment ago that it would have helped to know what Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Teodor Currentzis had in mind in their approach to the concerto. I’ve come across one or two oddly designed CD booklets in my time but I’m struggling to recall an example that’s as self-indulgent, pretentious or downright unhelpful to the purchaser as is the one that comes with this CD. For a start, there are no notes whatsoever about the music, nor are texts and translations for Les Noces provided. Instead the “documentation” consists of a toe-curling, gushing “letter” from Patricia Kopatchinskaja to Teodor Currentzis and a reply from him to her. Having read what they have to say I’m none the wiser.