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CD Review

Violin Concertos

Itzhak Perlman, violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
* New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Deutsche Grammophon 447445-2 51:17
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This is a wonderful entry to the "Originals" series because it shows Itzhak Perlman shining in music we don't expect him to play. Okay, so the Ravel is expected, but it's also the least valuable thing on the album. Say what you will about Seiji Ozawa's over-long and ultimately controversial Boston tenure, he could conduct this kind of music extraordinarily well. He's also an underrated accompanist, for many of his concerto collaborations are regarded as excellent.

None of that would matter were Perlman not excellent, and he is. He's generally known for his warm and distinguished readings of Romantic concerto repertoire, or his dabbles in film (though my dabbles tend not to be so profitable). Here, he tackles two very different 20th-Century masterpieces. In the Berg, he's completely undaunted by the work's numerous musical challenges, and in tune with its great beauty. The musical language of Berg and his contemporaries tends to be difficult for even seasoned listeners, but I very much doubt anyone could fail to be moved by what is essentially a requiem for Alma Mahler's teenage daughter from her second marriage.

The Stravinsky is more arid in nature, being far less sentimental and openly flying in the face of the great violin concertos of the past. Although in D Major like the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, and Sibelius (among others) this four-movement work is both witty and strikingly original in nature. Recently, it has seen a resurgence in the concert halls as well as on disc; this was probably the finest recording of it to date, and still stands up very well. Perlman is a great soloist, and Ozawa always conducted Stravinsky performances of distinction. The Ravel is very fine, but the disc is essential for these two exceptional readings of two great modern concertos.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman