Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op.35 (1878) [34:56]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No.2 Sz.112 (1938) [38:32]
Valeriy Sokolov (violin)
Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich/David Zinman
rec. October-November 2010, Tonhalle, Zurich
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6420170 [73:59]
These two concertos have illustrious recordings to their names, past and present, but are not natural disc-mates. In fact I’m struggling to remember a similar coupling. In any case, Valeriy Sokolov in tandem with Virgin Classics, has decided to harness them. The fine orchestral accompaniment comes from the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich under David Zinman.
Sokolov has decided ideas about Tchaikovsky but these are not outsize ones. In fact his approach is subtle, discreet and in some ways quite small-scale. That certainly relates to his tone, which is focused but not of much amplitude. It also concerns his tempo choices, which are quite direct, and sparing of rubati. His bowing is wristy and supple, unpressured and facile. He doesn’t dig into the string, like Russian players of old, but does cultivate a gracious and elegant legato phrasing. It’s the kind of rather aerial playing that might appeal to those sated by heavier, big-boned performances or those that rely on metrical displacements to try to make ‘points’. His first movement cadenza is up to tempo and though his playing is hardly one to parade panache it is well-shaded and, in the slow movement, effective without being at all effusive. The Zurich winds are malleable here, the chordal framing marshalled by Zinman being distinctive and a valuable adjunct to the soloist’s performance. The orchestral patina is indeed carefully shaped, too, and whilst the finale is hardly the last word in communicative élan, it remains dignified and of a piece. The folkloric drone passage is well realised however, so too the whistling Paganinian harmonics. Detailing remains good, clarity too, albeit at the cost of a degree of direct emotional engagement.
Bartók’s Concerto No.2 reflects this relatively objectified stylistic approach quite clearly. There is a certain reserve, and a reluctance to vary bow pressure and attack to generate a wide colouristic palette. The consequence is a reading of moderation, tonal unity and discretion. The elegance and pathos of the slow movement - good dynamics all-round - is highlit by Sokolov’s tight trills, whilst the forces catch the more barbarous moments in the finale adeptly. There are times, however, when Zinman seems more engaged than the soloist, and this skewed perspective leads to an emotive battle between heat and ice, rather than a congruent expressive approach.
Fine though the recording quality is, this qualified approach to the two works means that one’s response must be somewhat muted.
Jonathan Woolf
One’s response must be somewhat muted.