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CD Review

20th-Century Violin Concertos

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Naïve V5352 51m
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This is just the kind of disc that you might pass over in looking at new releases, and you'd be making a mistake. This is a wonderful new coupling of two great 20th-century masterpieces, and has only one fatal flaw. Track five is listed as a cadenza "which Stravinsky didn't write". I've seen cadenzas programmed after the concerto, and sometimes very effectively, but there's always a rhyme or reason for doing so. This disc doesn't provide either, at least not to my satisfaction. Stunningly played though it is by Kopatchinskaja and the Philharmonic's current Leader Pieter Schoman, the question still remains as to a real purpose for this "piece". I needed to get that out of the way first, because everything else really is great.

The London Philharmonic sometimes gets short-changed. Of course, these are world-class musicians, but only recently have their projects brought them legitimate attention. Under a strong podium presence, they really can sound pretty spectacular, and Jurowski counts as one of those. He has his players making all kinds of dark and gnarly sounds that you don't expect from the British bands. The framework is incisive and alert, a must in both works. The lower sections of the orchestra, often an English weakness, grab your attention and keep it. In both concertos, the London Philharmonic contributions are entirely positive. The sound is also something special, and gives real presence to the distinct musical language of both composers.

None of this would especially matter if Patricia Kopatchinskaja wasn't so impressive a soloist. She doesn't shy away from any of jagged edges in either work, refusing to turn anything soggy or schmaltzy. This is less of an issue in the Prokofiev to begin with, but the Stravinsky sounds less disjointed than usual. The razor sharp accuracy of her playing is arresting, she attacks both concertos confidently and with gusto. The Stravinsky is taken briskly, but not too quickly so as to miss details. The inner movements show the young violinist's ability to make her instrument sing flawlessly, while the dashing finale is tremendously articulated.

The Prokofiev is simply outstanding, both for the quality of the playing and for the ferocious manner in which Jurowski and Kopatchinskaja barrel into their respective parts. The first movement is full of tension and thrills; the moments of repose are chillingly lovely and marvelously phrased by the Philharmonic. The second movement Andante strikes me as perfectly timed, and effortlessly fluid. I love how Jurowski shapes the plucked strings, and I love even more the solo violin work floating above them. It just feels more natural than any recording I've yet heard. Fine first-chair work, too. The finale successfully emphasizes the dance-like elements better than any reading I've sampled since Shaham on DG, and the last few minutes are electrifying. Silly cadenza and very pink packaging aside, this slim CD takes up little space while providing great rewards.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman