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Max BRUCH (1838 - 1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 26 (1868)
Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 (1880)
Akiko Suwanai (violin)
The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner.
recorded in St. John’s Smith Square, London in July 1996. DDD
PHILIPS 454 180-2 [52’59"].

This disc is advertised as the debut disc of Akiko Suwanai. However I remember an outstanding CD of her playing of the Dvořák Concerto with the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer. This was coupled with more Dvořák and Sarasate and was issued by Philips some time ago. Then I was mightily impressed by this soloist’s playing and so it is again even though, according to the sleeve-notes, this recording was issued in 1997 [and it was released in 1997. It was obtained especially for this review - LM].

Akiko Suwanai has a glorious-toned instrument and she knows how to play it to its maximum effect. The accompaniment is superb and there is a recording quality to match. Anyone purchasing this disc will be extremely pleased with it.

It is usual these days to couple the Bruch with the Mendelssohn. Here it is satisfying to report that instead of the old warhorse, there is another popular work, albeit somewhat less so, drawn from Bruch’s compositions for violin and orchestra. The only regret that I have, is that, unlike the Dvořák disc, an opportunity to lengthen the playing time somewhat with further virtuoso violin/orchestra works was not taken. 53 minutes these days, is not really good enough, no matter how outstanding the performances. The notes, unusually for Philips, are devoted solely to their young artist, and ignore the composer and his works. This is possibly acceptable for the Violin Concerto, but some information could easily have been given about the Scottish Fantasy. Philips’ notes are not really up to their usual standard, and I am sure that this was the fault of the commissioner of the notes rather than the writer, as what is provided is well written and presented.

The notes concentrate on Suwanai’s ‘soul’. Her publicity photographs throughout the booklet reinforce this effect, with this very beautiful young lady dressed in black, looking suitably soulful.

The accompaniment, by Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields is a model of its kind. In some of their more recent recordings I have sensed an occasional element of routine in their playing. This disc however is fully in touch with the spontaneity which used to be one of their hallmarks in the early Decca days. If we then add to this an absolutely superb recording, in an acoustic which is at once clear and flattering, Philips have a winner on their hands.

Suwanai can hold her own against any of the currently popular soloists in this repertoire, and there is a wonderful sense of line in her playing. I well remember back in 1980 how impressed I was with Anne-Sophie Mutter’s playing of the Bruch and Mendelssohn concerti when that disc was first released at the start of her career. I find a similar response to this current release and was interested to find that Suwanai has won the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 1990.

The only thing to worry about now is how to ensure that plenty of people hear about this CD so that they will be curious enough to investigate its contents. Well, the playing time is one factor, but more than that, to wait for some six years after its release to have it reviewed seems somewhat perverse. Moreover, checking in the RED catalogue, I find that it has not indeed been submitted for review. [see note above - LM]

When I look at some of the unbridled pushing of some new artists, this inactivity on the part of Philips is incomprehensible. Go out and buy this disc – you will love it.

John Phillips

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