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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Violin Concertos

  • Concerto #1 for Violin in D Major, Op. 19 (1913)
  • Concerto #2 for Violin in G minor, Op. 63 (1935)
Boris Belkin, violin
Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra/Michael Stern
Denon 75891 (Allegro) 48min
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Prokofieff may have relished his role as Russia's enfant terrible, but his two violin concertos are romantic to the core – quirky rhythms and piquant harmonies notwithstanding. Unfortunately, Belkin has precious little sympathy for or understanding of this music, its phrasing, or interpretation. The result is dry, colorless, and emotionally distant. Age has certainly taken its toll on Belkin's once formidable technique. Far too many scratchy and otherwise unpleasant sounds issue from his instrument, and his playing is clumsy and graceless – especially in Concerto 1. He is rather more comfortable in the first two movements of Concerto 2, but he smooths over the score's searing drama and sudden, unexpected contrasts.

Mintz (on DG) plays this music with a passionate intensity and refreshing vigor that Belkin can't even approach. The Tonhalle strings sound quite lovely in II, but Michael Stern's accompaniment is otherwise undistinguished. Belkin abruptly becomes more assertive and dramatic in III. While this represents a considerable improvement over his earlier lethargy, his fraying technique is simply not up to the challenge. The recording is claustrophobic, and the Tonhalle strings sound terribly thin and wiry.

Given Denon's shamefully short playing time and Belkin's many inadequacies, this disc is clearly no bargain.

Copyright © 1996, Thomas Godell