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SACD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Violin Concerto #1 in D Major, Op. 19
  • Violin Concerto #2 in G minor, Op. 63
  • Sonata for Violin Solo in D Major, Op. 115
Arabella Steinbacher, violin
Russian National Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Pentatone PTC5186395 64m Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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I often eagerly tear into reviews with a strong opinion developed after just one or two hearings of the disc. This CD, however, puzzled me a bit. I know these two concertos very well, but Steinbacher's way with them was different enough to give me pause. For starters, she tends to dot every "i" and cross every "t", and I mean that in a positive way. Still, that might suggest the performances would be stiff, but she plays with a seamless flow in lyrical sections, especially in the First Concerto, as if the parts of the music must happen without the least disruptive element. The first movement of the First is beautifully played, with the outer sections sounding lean and a bit understated. It's as if the music is polished and thought out to the minutest detail, with little attempt to highlight virtuosic passages in the music. The Scherzo is brilliantly realized, with a keen sense for detail by both soloist and conductor: I like that growling tuba and so must give praise to Vasily Petrenko for his work not only here but throughout this work and the Second Concerto as well. The finale is magical, especially in the ethereal and heavenly ending. But is this splendid performance good enough to trump the competition? Mutter's rendition of the First on DG is better, though maybe only marginally. And maybe the classic Szigeti, bad sound and all, also has an edge. That said, this performance by Steinbacher is a stellar effort still.

What about the Second? Here, you have two compelling recordings by Heifetz to deal with as competition, not to mention the excellent Perlman/Barenboim effort on Erato. But both of the Heifetz recordings, from 1949 and 1959 respectively, feature sound reproduction hardly state-of-the-art. Moreover, Steinbacher loosens up a bit in this concerto and offers a performance, especially in the finale, with drive and tension. In the end, one must declare that she offers splendid renditions of both concertos that can compete with most of the competition.

What sets this disc apart from others in the Prokofiev concerto genre is the inclusion of the Op. 115 Sonata, a work originally conceived for a group of violinists playing in unison. To the best of my knowledge it has never been recorded that way. This effort, for solo violin, by Steinbacher is as compelling a version as I have ever encountered. The sound on the disc is excellent. Steinbacher is a hugely talented violinist and should have a major career.

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings