Dmitry KABALEVSKY (1904-1987) Colas Breugnon, Op. 24: Overture [4:39] Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82 (1905) [20:25] Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) [35:52]
Philippe Quint (violin)
Bochumer Symphoniker/Steven Sloane
rec. 6-8 May 2014, Ruhrcongresse, Bochum, Germany AVANTICLASSIC 1047-2 SACD [60:57]
Philippe Quint has made numerous fine recordings on the Naxos label, but I first came across him for the Avanti label in a jazz CD adapting the music of Bach (review). Now here he is in an interesting coupling of two violin concertos whose popularity might be said to have waned in recent years. There here is a distinctive, ‘period’ feel to this CD which is temporarily displaced by Kabalevsky’s lively and characterful Shostakovich-like overture Colas Breugnon. This is a fine opening, demonstrating the Bochum Symphoniker’s athletic virtuosity, but as it doesn’t merit a mention in the booklet it need not detain us here.
That ‘period’ feel I mentioned has less to do with the performances, but in the nature of the music, which in Glazunov’s case very much exists in that late Romantic idiom which was dominant at the turn of the twentieth century. Premiered in 1905, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto Op. 82 is a work that represents a rewarding showpiece for any soloist, and Philippe Quint’s stylish panache inhabits its rhapsodical world very comfortably indeed. The first movement is mildly dramatic and sensuously eloquent without being overly intense: repeated wind chords in the opening suggesting a hint of Berlioz, and with transparent colours allowing the violin to soar expressively. This is all fairly light stuff, but the main meat of this concerto is to be found in the Andante sostenuto central movement, longer on its own than both of the outer movements put together. Once again the soloist is very much centre stage, and you can let this luscious and verdant field of gently undulating music wash over you like a pleasant dream. The final Allegro has a heroic feel and gives the soloist plenty of sporting opportunities to show off double-stopping and other virtuoso effects.
More cinematic in its imagery, Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor opens like a chase scene from an old black-and-white movie. If you know and love Spartacus or other hit classics from this composer’s pen such as Gayane then you will be sure to appreciate this concerto’s folk-inflected gestures and red-blooded sense of soul, but like Glazunov’s work it is very much of its time. Quint is remarkable in the extended cadenza in the first movement, using the composer’s original with some of Henryk Szering’s subsequent small edits. The gently lilting accompaniment of the melody that opens the second is sensitively handled by the orchestra, and the feel of a team effort is strong throughout in this recording even though the violin is quite forward in the balance. Orchestral detail is not sacrificed however, and there is plenty of impact in the energetic final Allegro vivace.
Comparisons for these recordings immediately go to classic versions such as David Oistrakh, dedicatee of Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto, whose mono recording conducted by the composer on EMI/Warner Classics is still very hard to beat (review). The ‘classic’ alternative for the Glazunov concerto would probably have to be Jascha Heifetz, a champion of this work and whose 1934 EMI recording, now available via Warner Classics (review) still has the power to move where others do not.
If you want a comparison on SACD then another choice would be Julia Fischer on the Pentatone label (review), which adds Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto to the pair on offer here. This has a more opulent sonic picture, with the violin in softer focus than in the Avanti recording, particularly with the Khachaturian. I find it hard to come out with a clear preference between Quint and Fischer, which is commendation in itself as the Pentatone production is fine indeed. Both of these soloists are highly captivating and can be appreciated for their expressive input – giving everything but without adding heart-on-sleeve sentimentality. If pushed I would probably chose Fischer, in part for the more substantial coupling but also for the marginally more integrated balance between violin and orchestra, which is of course very much a question of personal taste. Either way, Philippe Quint’s excellent SACD recording can stand comparison with the best, and emerges as something of an unexpected pearl amongst the wobbly heaps of more standard offerings this reviewer has encountered of late.