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SACD Review

Russian Violin Concertos

Pentatone SACD 5186591
Julia Fischer, Violin
Russian National Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg
Pentatone SACD PTC5186591 79:24
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Pentatone SACD 5186610

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

  • Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
  • Sérénade mélancolique
  • Valse Scherzo, Op. 34
  • Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42 *
Julia Fischer, violin
* Yakov Kreizberg, piano
Russian National Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg
Pentatone SACD PTC5186610 68:25
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The Russian Violin Concertos SACD, originally released in 2004, was not only Julia Fischer's first recording for Pentatone, but her first featuring her as soloist in concerto repertory. She had previously appeared on an EMI CD of Brahms's G minor Piano Quartet and an Opus Arte DVD of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. In the very interesting album notes Ms. Fischer explains her choice to record these three concertos, which really comes down to the fact that she loves the music in each work and finds it a great honor to perform them with the Russian National Orchestra under the late Yakov Kreizberg. Since making this recording Fischer has become recognized as one of the leading violinists of her generation and has made her mark as a pianist as well, most notably with her highly praised recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto.

As the reader can glean from the heading, this is a well-filled disc, containing almost eighty minutes of music. More importantly, the performances are excellent. Julia Fischer was about twenty-one when she made these recordings, which is all the more astonishing because in each work her interpretive acumen, sense of maturity and all-encompassing technique are qualities one associates with a seasoned master of this kind of challenging repertory. She captures the vivid color, bouncy rhythms and infectious exoticism of the Khachaturian about as well as anyone: the first movement has all the drive and passion one could want, while the lovely lyricism in the second soars in such singing tones and the finale lifts your mood with its abundance of energy, joy and playfulness.

Fischer's Prokofiev is just as effective: the mixture of energy and acid in the second movement Scherzo comes across splendidly and the composer's lyrical themes in the outer movements are sensitively and subtly phrased, perfectly capturing their dreamy and utterly enchanting character. Her Glazunov is lovely and fairly straightforward in its approach, but she always focuses on the lushness and Romantic character of the music. In fact, in each of the works Fischer is especially effective in pointing up the plentiful lyrical aspects, as well as the more joyful and brighter moments. Yakov Kreizberg and the Russian National Orchestra offer fine performances too, seconding her generally warm and heartfelt way with the music.

There is much competition in these three works, especially in the Glazunov and Prokofiev. You may do better in individual performances of these concertos, but you'll likely not find a collection of these three works this well played. Excellent sound by Pentatone on this SACD!

The Tchaikovsky disc, originally released in 2006, is just as convincing. Fischer may well be slightly understated in the first and second movements of the concerto, but she makes her interpretation work owing to her deft sense for phrasing Tchaikovsky's heart-on-sleeve music, which amounts to playing up both the warmth and sincere grandiosity of the first movement main theme and the yearning and sadness of the alternate theme. Indeed, Fischer captures both the passion and pride of Tchaikovsky about as well as anyone. Alongside more fiery and driven approaches by Heifetz, Kogan and others, Fischer compares favorably because she imparts a sense of passion with a perfect balance of elegance and warmth. Her finale lacks nothing in the way of fire and drive: her clean, brilliant technique allows her to deliver the main theme with all the energy and color you could want, while the stately swagger of the alternate theme comes across convincingly in its colorfully jaunty and joyful manner. Yakov Kreizberg and the Russian National Orchestra turn in splendid support and the Pentatone sound reproduction is vivid and well balanced. In the end, this is a brilliant performance, perhaps one to challenge the best among the current and past competition.

The other Tchaikovsky works here are played with the same sense of commitment and skill. Kreizberg the conductor becomes Kreizberg the pianist in the Souvenir d'un lieu cher and in it he accompanies Ms. Fischer with mastery, fully accommodating the sometimes unorthodox keyboard writing style of Tchaikovsky. For Tchaikovsky violin concerto and chamber devotees this disc should be counted as a must. Again, Pentatone provides excellent sound reproduction in the smaller works. Both discs are strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings