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CD Review

20th-Century Concertos

Second Orford Arts Centre International Competition

  • Alexander Glazunov: Piano Concerto #2, Op. 100
  • Karl Davïdov: Cello Concerto #2, Op. 14
  • Yuly Konyus: Violin Concerto
Matthew Herskowitz, piano
Alexander Ziumbrovsky, cello
L. Edwin Csüry, violin
I Musici de Montréal/Yuli Turovsky
Chandos CHAN9622 DDD 69:32
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Only Alexander Glazunov is fairly well known to concert audiences and record buyers from among this conservative Russian trio. Cello fanciers and a few others will recognize the name of Karl Davïdov, but as much for his pedagogy and accounts of his virtuoso playing, as for his music. Yuly Konyus (pronounced, David Fanning's notes tell us, "Kunyus") is perhaps even lesser known than Davïdov. All three of the works here are worthwhile compositions, though, with the Glazunov the most substantial and probably deserving of greater attention.

I am generally not fond of Glazunov's orchestral music, which often strikes me as lacking innovation and depth. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to me that his Second Piano Concerto (1917), which he must have invested with special effort in the knowledge it was his Op. 100 composition, is a finely crafted, beautiful work in the Lisztian concerto mold. It is in one-movement and begins with a richly Romantic theme, which appears in different guises in the four sections (or inner movements). Structurally it is not dissimilar to the Liszt Second, but is far less bombastic and rather free of virtuosic excesses. It is not free, however, of taxing interpretive demands: the pianist must convey a special sensitivity to Glazunov's heart-on-sleeve Romanticism, which, overdone, can degenerate into schmaltz; and he must render the sunny, playful elements (as heard in the third section's scherzo) with vivacity not with diablerie, and the colorful grandiosity (as in the close), with an idiomatic grasp on its Russianness to avoid sounding pompous and corny. Pianist Herskowitz, who impressed me with his recent Jazz CD, Lucid, on the Ethereal label (is he the pianistic counterpart to Wynton Marsalis?), demonstrates that he is fully up to the task. He possesses wide-ranging dynamics and formidable technique, as well as keen interpretive insight that neither slights Glazunov's honey nor exaggerates his bravado. I can't imagine a superior performance. Maestro Turovsky and his players must also take credit for their share of the success in this splendid account.

The Konyus Violin Concerto dates from 1896 and is also a one-movement work. It is, however, more advanced in its expressive language than the Glazunov, hinting at Sibelius and Elgar at times, even vaguely suggesting the lighter symphonies of Mahler. Still, it's no heavyweight on the emotional or philosophical fronts, though it is thematically attractively and technically demanding. The cadenza near the close is masterfully fashioned, its drama never sounding calculated or corny, its thematic references always subtle and imaginative. It is surely one of the highlights here. Violinist Csüry captures the essence of this composer's style with an adroit sense, managing to convey the beauties and subtleties with great feeling. I do wish he had a fuller tone, but the composer's sparing orchestration and the conductor's knowing baton never trample on his fine playing.

Davïdov's 1863 Second Cello Concerto is the longest work here, clocking in at twenty-six-and-a-half minutes. It is certainly well constructed and bhe hnstoumeetal writing assured. Ultimately, though, for all its thematic appeal and orchestral color, the piece comes across as a charming diversion rather than as a neglected masterwork. Don't take that to mean it offers few rewards. Cello aficionados, especially those with a fondness for the Schumann Concerto, will find its pleasures considerable. Again, the performance is a fine one, but once again I find this string player's tone a bit reticent. Chandos' sound is absolutely excellent, so the blame can't be laid at the engineer's feet. Turovsky and his players perform admirably here, as well. All in all, this is a fine disc, the Glazunov alone justifying purchase.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings