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SACD Review

Serge Prokofieff


Violin Concertos

  • Concerto for Violin #1 in D Major, Op. 19
  • Concerto for Violin #2 in G minor, Op. 63
  • Sonata in D Major for Solo Violin, Op. 115
Vadim Gluzman, violin
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
BIS SACD 2142 60:21 Hybrid Multichannel
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I reviewed Vadim Gluzman's BIS recording of the Prokofiev Violin Sonatas in 2013 here at Classical Net (BIS SACD 2032) and found his performances excellent. They were published by BIS on a splendidly produced SACD. The sound on this new SACD is also exceptionally clear and well balanced, with the violin having a sweet, silken tone so arresting that if the performances were only so-so you'd still find yourself at least occasionally listening to the disc. I am happy to report, however, that what Gluzman, Järvi and the Estonian players offer here is far above the ordinary, far above "so-so".

Gluzman knows how to phrase Prokofiev's unique lyrical themes. Listen to how he deftly captures the gentle, soaring beauty of the main theme in the Prokofiev First, a theme of extraordinary breadth and subtlety. True, Gluzman can be slightly quirky the way note values are slightly clipped or extended in a couple of places (noticeable too in the Second's first movement alternate theme), but his velvety tone and superior sense for dynamics and interpretation always win you over. He understands that Prokofiev could write melodies of a Romantic bent alright, especially in his concertos for violin and cello, but he was not heart-on-sleeve like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov. His lyrical nature was a bit cooler emotionally, even though his melodies could still soar to the heavens. Gluzman gives the main theme of the First's finale a bit more muscle and it works just fine, and the ending is of mesmerizing beauty as the violin delivers those quivering notes of the work's opening theme so beautifully.

Gluzman plays the lyrical themes in the Second with the same kind of sensitivity and intelligence: try the gorgeous second movement theme, where his superior phrasing is bolstered by heartier dynamics that often allow the violin to be heard above the orchestra, particularly in the lower notes. And Gluzman also nicely captures the motoric and caustic sides of Prokofiev in both works: he really digs in to get a deliciously raspy tone in the First's Scherzo and in the main theme to the Second's finale. The shrieks and sul ponticello effects in the First's Scherzo are quite impressive too and Gluzman delivers the hell-bent ending of the Second's finale with both power and virtuosic finesse. Järvi draws splendid playing from the orchestra in both concertos.

The Sonata for solo violin was actually written for a group of unison violins, but no one ever seems to play it that way. There isn't as much competition in this work as there is in both the concertos, which are firmly in the standard repertory. Thus any recording of the solo sonata is welcome, especially when it is performed this well. Gluzman plays the work with more muscle than I've ever heard before – close miking may be a factor but I like the full-blooded tone anyway. Again, Gluzman's phrasing, dynamics and tempo selections are well chosen and his account of this short sonata goes to the top of my list.

As for the concertos, there are so many excellent versions of the two coupled together – Chung/Previn, Steinbacher/Petrenko, Mintz/Abbado, Papavrami/Wit, Perlman/Rozhdestvensky, Mordkovitch/ Järvi, Milstein/Giulini & Frühbeck de Burgos, Oistrakh/various conductors, and Mutter in the First and Heifetz and Jansen in the Second. I could go on and name some other favorites, but what's the point? This version by Gluzman and Järvi should probably be ranked near the top of the list, but it has one more thing going for it that most recordings don't and that is the aforementioned utterly stunning sound reproduction. My verdict then – urgently recommended!

Copyright © 2016, Robert Cummings