Next to recent recordings of the Prokofieff concertos by Boris Belkin and Joshua Bell, this new version stands out for its polished playing, energy, and lively imagination. However, comparison with Shlomo Mintz's probing accounts of these two works on DG, reveals that Cho-Liang Lin is too often shallow and episodic. Listen, for example, to the broadly lyrical entrance of the violin near the beginning of Concerto 1:III. Thanks to his seamless phrasing and coy seductiveness, Mintz soars. Lin, on the other hand, is totally earthbound, playing this passage in a choppy and passionless manner. (Vengerov and especially Mutter have also made exceptional recordings of this work, though neither is coupled with Concerto 2.) Lin is vastly more convincing in Concerto 2, where he projects and shapes Prokofieff's convoluted melodic lines with a grace and sensitivity that was lacking in the earlier work. II becomes particularly enchanting as a result. Lin is also compelling in the flashy, virtuosic passages that enable him to show off his considerable technical acumen. Unfortunately for Mr. Lin, Mintz is superior in every way, and in addition he brings a sense of mystery to this music that Lin simply cannot equal. Sony's engineers have relegated the orchestra to the background and many of its instruments are off-mike, including several members of the all-important percussion section. DG's more natural balances allow for a real dialog between the soloist and the orchestra that's not possible in this new recording.
Lin clearly finds the abstract, neo-classical idiom of the Stravinsky Concerto more congenial. As a result he turns in a jaunty and high-spirited reading that makes Chantal Juillet on London seem dry and humorless. There's a pleasant swagger to the rhythms here as well as considerable sensitivity to the two "arias" that form the heart of this work. Salonen is an ideal partner, providing a joyous and alert backdrop for his soloist. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays magnificently in all three concertos. Curiously, the timings for each of ten tracks listed on the back of the jewel box is incorrect - some are off by as much as four minutes. I can heartily recommend the Stravinsky, and though I'm less sanguine about Lin's work in the Prokofieff concertos, his performances are certainly better than the recent run of the mill.
Copyright © 1998, Tom Godell