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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (1915-17) [20:49]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 (1935) [26:30]
Sonata in D major for solo violin, Op. 115 (1947) [11:49]
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia, July 2015 (Concerto No. 1), May 2014 (Concerto No. 2); Sendesaal Bremen, Germany, July 2015 (Sonata)
Reviewed in CD stereo
BIS BIS-2142 SACD [60:21]

There are so many fine recordings of these concertos that one would have to be outstanding to merit a strong recommendation. Alas, the one under review is disappointing in many ways. I have had great admiration for Vadim Gluzman’s violin performances in the past and raved over his account of Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto No. 2 In tempus praesens also on BIS. Of course in that work his only competition was Anne-Sophie Mutter, though hers was formidable. Gluzman also performed the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Tugan Sokhiev in 2014, available on the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall website. There he seemed more engaged with the orchestra and conductor. I fear that Neeme Järvi may have done these works one time too many.

For comparisons I selected two of my favorite recordings: Maxim Vengerov’s with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting (Warner) and Gil Shaham’s with André Previn (DG), both with the London Symphony. As one might expect, Vengerov and Rostropovich are very “Russian” in these works. The Concerto No. 1 gets a more deliberate treatment and stresses the dramatic, dark elements beneath the surface of the music. Shaham and Previn are a bit lighter and more lyrical, even patrician. Gluzman and Järvi are rather matter of fact and fleeter, especially compared to Vengerov. Gluzman’s tone is correspondingly leaner than that of either Vengerov or Shaham. Gluzman certainly plays well and one would come away from hearing him in concert satisfied. It’s only when you start comparing with the others that you miss the greater involvement with the music. The Estonian orchestra is also fine and the woodwinds are notably so. However, the important brass parts do not tell in the way they do with the London Symphony. Some of this may be due to a more distant recording than either Vengerov’s or Shaham’s.

This impression continues with the Second Concerto. Vengerov and Rostropovich produce a highly romantic account of the first two movements and the orchestra responds boldly. Shaham and Previn are eloquent, less dramatic, as in the First Concerto, but still beautifully romantic. Gluzman again does not possess the rich violin tone of the others, which is even more beneficial here than in the Concerto No. 1. His bright sound and leaner timbre may please some listeners more than me. I never was fond of Heifetz’s way with this work, not that you would mistake Gluzman for the earlier master. Of interest, there is one place in the second movement of this concerto where the Estonian orchestra’s bass drum thuds (9:11-12) really startle. The rondo third movement gets forceful and percussive treatment from both Shaham and Vengerov, while it seems to be merely played well by Gluzman. Prokofiev included castanets in the scoring of this movement. They are clearly audible in Vengerov’s and Shaham’s recordings, but seemingly absent in this new one. If one listens on headphones, they can just about be heard. That’s a pity because they add much colour to the orchestration.

The recorded sound is problematic, too, in the sonata. This late work was originally intended by the composer for students to play as a group in unison. It has been taken up, though, by many violinists of note. Shaham’s disc has the identical programme of Gluzman’s. Vengerov did not record the sonata to my knowledge. It is a pleasant piece with more substance than one would think at first glance, but nowhere near the stature of his two great sonatas for violin and piano. Shaham is impressive in his account, bright and upfront. Gluzman’s performance lacks luster and the sound is diffuse. I have a special fondness for another recording of this piece, Josef Špaček’s on a Supraphon violin/piano disc containing Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1, Janáček, and Smetana. His performance is fully equal to Shaham’s and, indeed, quite beautiful.

BIS have contributed their usual classy product with a detailed booklet. The disc, as indicated above, is SACD. I listened to it on conventional stereo equipment and so maybe it impresses more in surround sound. However, as stereo, it does not compare well with either Vengerov or Shaham. For those seeking this particular programme, Shaham/Previn is the one to go for. For the concertos, I would not want to be without Vengerov/Rostropovich either. Their interpretations are different enough from each other to merit having both.

Leslie Wright
Previous review: Dave Billinge (Recording of the Month)



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