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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Violin Concerto, Op.64 (1844) [26:55]
String Octet, Op.20 (1815) [31:19]
Liza Ferschtman (violin)
Het Gelders Orkest/Kees Bakels
rec. 13-14 June 2016, Concertgebouw De Vereeniging, Nijmegen (Violin Concerto); 28 July 2016, Van der Mandelzaal, De Prinsenkelder, Delft, the Netherlands (String Octet) CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72748 SACD [58:19]
I was greatly impressed by Liza Ferschtman's recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto (review), and it won't require being hypnotized by those blue eyes looking out at us from the cover for this to be made a success by her legions of fans. Ferschtman tells us that this was the first "adult" concerto she played in her mid-teens but wasn't a work she would have considered recording until performing it in May 2016 with Kees Bakels and Het Gelders Orkest and being "all of a sudden struck by a distinct feeling that I can only describe as falling in love all over again with this magical piece."
Het Gelders Orkest is a fine band, sounding warm and expressive in this recording, but it is of course the sweet purity, expressive depth and easy virtuosity of Ferschtman's solo that makes this recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto stand out from the crowd. There are no further selling-points such as newly discovered corrections - the cadenza and violin part played here is that usually heard, with Ferdinand David's idiomatic adaptations and improvements.
Mendelssohn's ever popular Violin Concerto is one that has cartloads of recordings available from legendary greats such as Yehudi Menuhin up to present day Janine Jansen, Tianwa Yang and Daniel Hope, whose Deutsche Grammophon recording also couples the concert with the Octet Op. 20. Comparing this last example with Ferschtman shows The Chamber Orchestra of Europe bringing more character to the accompaniment in a synergy with Hope, who is more textured and micro-managing with the solo part. This works well, but Ferschtman's lighter tone and expressively lyrical phrasing is superbly matched by the less 'present' Gelders Orkest. Dutch colleague Janine Jansen on the Decca label is very good of course, but with her heavier vibrato and a more symphonic accompaniment compared to Ferschtman/Bakels' more chamber-music approach makes this more of a 'war horse' version than Hope and the recording at hand.
The String Octet Op. 20 makes for a substantial filler, being even longer than the main course. Composed when Mendelssohn was still a teenager, this is chamber music with symphonic ambitions and a mind talented enough to back its ideas with strong development and a keen ear for dramatic pace. Ferschtman and her players are recorded live at her Delft Chamber Music Festival and they sound very good indeed, very fresh and lively in that con fuoco first movement, but always allowing the music space to breathe and the expressive lines to speak fully. Daniel Hope and friends on DG sounds live where this really is live, and a terrific concert it must have been. Observation of dynamics is very good, and you have the sense of musicians who play by listening, properly giving way to each little solo and colouring and tempering vibrato at each special moment in that rather special Andante. The Scherzo is swift but doesn't sound rushed, presenting as virtuoso playing of the highest order, with musicality always to the fore, and the final Presto is suitably busy but with plenty of witty inflection. There is barely any audience noise but the musicians are recorded closely enough to take most bumps out of the equation, though there is some applause and whooping at the end.
With fine sound in stereo and all the added depth you could ask for in SACD mode this is a recording which is unlikely to disappoint. There's space on the CD for a fair bit more music if one wants to be picky, but what is here is very good indeed. If you love these pieces then this should raise a healthy smile, and if you have been keenly awaiting another Ferschtman disc then the concerto in particular is a real treat.