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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major op.35 (1879) [35:19]
Souvenir d’un lieu cher op.42 (1878) [17:15]
Janine Jansen (violin)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding
rec. 21-24 July 2008 (live recordings), Auditorio de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
DECCA 478 0651 [52:34]
Experience Classicsonline

There is never likely to be any kind of famine of recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, but while I did have a punt at David Garrett’s recording (see review) not so very long ago, I haven’t since been piling my shelves with alternative performances either revered or reviled. As she describes at some length in the booklet, Janine Jansen has performed this concerto many times over the past few years, and with conductors such as Ashkenazy and Gergiev. Referring to the circumstances under which it was written, Jansen doesn’t see the piece as depressing or maudlin: “Intimate and melancholic would be more accurate descriptions.”
This to a certain extent holds the key to this recording. Jansen’s solo part is as dramatic and as technically virtuosic as one could hope and wish for, but she doesn’t ‘grandstand’ the music, and makes no off-the-wall attempts to make the piece more than it is. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra sounds full and dynamic enough, but as its name would suggest it doesn’t portray this music in quite the symphonic perspectives one might expect from one of the larger European or American orchestras. The tuttis have plenty of heft, but the sensation is that of being that much closer to the musicians, comparative to the big space and greater bulk of strings in the Moscow Great Hall with Pletnev/Garrett. With this warmer sense of intimacy you might expect a more lyrical approach, and this is sometimes the case, though Daniel Harding maintains a suitably Russian feel through crisp articulation in the first and final movements.
The central Canzonetta is beautifully played but without sentimental lingering, shaving a good 30 seconds from Garrett’s timing and having good forward momentum. The sense of emotional commitment comes through well in Jansen’s playing. She eschews routine in general, and the way this works shows in the expressive simplicity in this central movement. This is music which demands all those elusive qualities of communication which no amount of technical ability can guarantee, and Jansen had me gripped from beginning to end.
Remarkably, the Canzonetta of the concerto was originally a different movement altogether, and this is the piece we now know as the Méditation from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. More commonly played with piano accompaniment, Romanian-Dutch conductor Alexandru Lascae orchestrated the piece for soloist and strings, and it has been a staple of Jansen’s repertoire in this form for years. The family connection to the concerto is spotlit in this setting, and you can re-programme the track order and find out why Tchaikovsky and his colleagues agreed that it didn’t hack it as the central movement of the Violin Concerto. It is of course a charming work in its own right. The Scherzo and Mélodie provide an effectively light and affectionate close to the programme, and in Jansen and Harding’s hands the Méditation is also revealed as an emotionally charged and potently expressive piece.
These ‘live’ recordings are very good, and there is no audience noise and only a few sniffs and grunts from those on the stage. Just as a matter of interest, this release has been Janine Jansen’s highest ‘hit’ in the Dutch charts so far, reaching No.5, where her ‘Four Seasons’ CD only reached No.33, and the J.S. Bach ‘Inventions and Partita’ made No.12. Whether this is an indication of ms. Jansen’s own increasing popularity, the pre-‘Sinterklaas’/Christmas timing of the release or that of the repertoire presented is hard to say. The principal selling point of this release is Janine Jansen’s pure tone and excellent playing, and for this reason it is most certainly worth the asking price. Compared to numerous august recordings this does sail a little close to being ‘Tchaikovsky-lite’ in some ways, but I actually very much like this relatively intimate approach to what can easily become overblown and stereotypical high romanticism. It may not topple old favourites, but I’m fairly convinced most collectors will find it adds a breath of fresh air to their libraries.
Dominy Clements


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