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Antonín DVORAK
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53. Mazurek, Op. 49.

Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20. Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25.
Akiko Suwanai (violin); Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer.
Philips 464 531-2 [DDD] [55'27]
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This is a remarkable record. I have little hesitation in placing the performance of the Dvorák as a first choice. The remaining items on the disc are despatched with a stunning command of the violin, coupled with much innate sensitivity.

Initially, the photo of Suwanai on the back cover of the booklet rang all sorts of alarm bells. She is depicted as some sort of Asian doll. Publicity departments of record companies have had a lot to answer for in the past, and here their chosen image seems to run contrary to the aural evidence of the disc, which shows a musician of considerable maturity (the absolutely stunning front cover is infinitely more tasteful).

The Sarasate pieces that open the disc are the stuff of virtuosos, but even here Suwanai imbues them with a compulsive musicality which means they never degenerate into mere kitsch. Her technique is more than equal to their formidable demands, but possibly what remains in the mind most is her ability to thin her sound to a magical thread at exactly the right moment. The Carmen Fantasy is gripping, the effect of the whole enhanced immeasurably by Fischer's shadow-like accompaniment.

Dvorák's Mazurek provides much more than a bridge to the world of his Violin Concerto: Suwanai shows her affinity to the Bohemian world here whilst simultaneously relishing the technical challenges. But it is the Concerto that ensures this disc's lasting place in my library. She loses nothing to the competition (most notably, perhaps, Josef Suk with Ancerl on Supraphon SU19282). The rapport between Fischer and Suwanai is at its height here: they project the musical argument in the most ardent, committed terms. Suwanai is remarkably sweet-toned throughout, showing the more lyrical, yearning side of her nature perfectly in the slow movement. The finale's pointed furiant rhythms bring the piece to a spirited, lively close.

I cannot recommend this disc highly enough. The recording is clear and well balanced, capturing every nuance. For those new to Dvorák's Violin Concerto, this record will come as a revelation. A friend of mine (whose musical judgement I trust) heard Suwanai in Japan several years ago and described her as typical of the Oriental, technically perfect but musically lacking school. It would appear that Akiko Suwanai has grown up.

Unhesitatingly recommended.


Colin Clarke

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