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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Violin concerto in A minor, op. 82 (1904) [21:36]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin concerto in D major, op. 35 (1878) [39:08]
Ayako Yonetani (violin)
Slovak State Philharmonic of Košice/Leoš Svárovský
rec. 2018/19, Dom Umenia, Košice, Slovakia,
VENUS CLASSICS 852-346-5732 [60:44]

Florida-based Ayako Yonetani may not be up there in reputation with such benchmark performers of Glazunov’s violin concerto as Jascha Heifetz’ (review ~ review) or David Oistrakh (review), nevertheless, on this newly-released disc she delivers a distinctive account of her own which, given the relative rarity of new recordings, is worth hearing.  Flattered by a fine, clear recording that balances her very well against the orchestra, she eschews both Heifetz’ throwaway virtuosity and the Oistrakh’s characteristically Russian combination of fantasy and soulful introspection in favour of a more objective approach.  While I would never wish to be without both superstar players’ wonderful – and wonderfully subjective - accounts, Ms Yonetani’s precise, neatly detailed, almost pointillist performance offers an interestingly different perspective.  Only the finale disappoints.  Glazunov indicates simply allegro, thereby leaving a fair degree of interpretative leeway, but Ms Yonetani’s dogged refusal to whip up much in the way of visceral excitement is something of a disappointment.  Indeed, a moment where, in the absence of the soloist, the orchestra indulges itself in some welcome unbuttoned animation (19:23-19:47) only serves to emphasise her generally instinctive caution and even a few points (17:30-17:42, for instance) at which dogged incisiveness comes perilously close to leaden-footedness.

The Tchaikovsky concerto has been much more frequently recorded than Glazunov’s over the years.  MWI’s Masterwork index currently lists no fewer than 85 accounts (and they are of course only the ones reviewed here) and Ms Yonetani thereby faces particularly stiff competition in the market.  Unfortunately, however, her characteristically careful and deliberate pacing doesn’t suit the Tchaikovsky concerto as well as it did much of Glazunov’s.  Here, her carefully delivered precision can emerge as simply rather dull.  The first movement suffers particularly in that respect, with the absence of much in the way of obvious spontaneity or imaginative touches creating an impression that it’s somewhat mechanically delivered.  Ms Yonetani’s disinclination to generate excitement differentiates her from most of her virtuoso competitors and, while it’s true that there are a few moments when matters perk up a little (10:21-10:49, for instance, or 19:08-19:18), they are really all too brief.  A well-executed account of the cadenza comes too late to save a movement that has, by that point, lost its sense of drive or direction.

As might be expected, Ms Yonetani’s low-key approach suits the canzonetta middle movement much better and, once again, the clear recording uncovers and emphasises the filigree delicacy of much of the dialogue between soloist and orchestra.  The latter’s lively introduction to the finale seems to inject a little more vim into Ms Yonetani’s approach but, while the performance certainly chugs along more purposefully than in the opening movement, it is still - as one might by now have predicted - the more lyrical and soulful passages (such as 6:58-8:29) that come off best.  The soloist’s failure to embrace fully the composer’s allegro vivacissimo designation effectively denies listeners the cathartic experience that they legitimately expect to enjoy in the finale to a Romantic concerto.

Although it was taped more than a year before the Glazunov concerto, the Tchaikovsky recording shares several characteristics with it.  As well as the aforementioned excellent sound engineering, the contribution of the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra of Košice under conductor Leoš Svárovský (previously accorded high praise on this website for his recording of Janácek’s Glagolitic mass review) is skilfully executed and enjoyable.

A degree of thoughtlessness in the way that this release has been presented is, however, disappointing.  Even though the Glazunov concerto runs for 21 minutes without pause, it is still a four-movement piece, and by presenting it in a single track, this CD misses an obvious user-friendly trick; the addition of a few appropriate access points would have been a helpful feature.  So, too, might have been the selection of a better – or better proof-read - overall title to this release, for the current one, Romantic Russian violin concerto (in the singular), doesn’t make much sense at all.

Rob Maynard

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