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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D (1945) [27.06]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème for Violin and Orchestra (1896) [16.37]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor (1862) [26.18]
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
Orquestra Gulbenkian/Lawrence Foster
rec. Grand Auditorio of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, July 2012. SACD
PENTATONE PTC 5186 503 [70.23]
With Julia Fischer seemingly contracted to Decca, it appears that Arabella Steinbacher is now Pentatone’s new glamour girl of the violin.
Ms Steinbacher was born in 1981 long after Hollywood’s Golden Age and those Errol Flynn and Bette Davis epics. These films inspired Korngold’s film scores and in turn drove the creative force of his Violin Concerto. I say this because I just wonder if Ms Steinbacher had seen those films: Another Dawn (1937), in particular, plus Juarez (1939), Anthony Adverse (1936) or even The Prince and the Pauper (1937) so that she might soak up the Korngold idiom and atmosphere.
This most romantic of Late Romantic violin concertos needs to be played with all the emotional stops out. Missing is the emotional depth that Heifetz brought to it in his celebrated 1953 recording while the composer was still alive and the composition just some eight years old. The Heifetz recording, with Wallenstein and, so appropriately, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is the one I continually turn to above all others. The trouble with this Steinberger/Foster approach is that it is hesitant and languid; in fact too languid by far with the Romance, second movement having too much of an oppressively torrid, hot-house atmosphere without the required emotional commitment. Timings comparisons between the Steinbacher and Heifetz recordings speak volumes:-
Steinbacher: 9.59; 9.18; 7.49
Heifetz: 7.47; 7.09; 6.30
Steinbacher’s technique on the other hand is immaculate; how gracefully those swirls and leaps are articulated. I will award marks though for the jolly, energetic Pentatone Finale.
I was more persuaded listening to the Chausson Poème. Chausson set this composition in three versions: the orchestral version here recorded and one for violin and piano and a third for violin, piano and string quartet. Poème was inspired by the spirit of a Turgenev romance which relates how a musician and a painter love the same girl. She chooses the painter and they live happily together, but are childless. The musician is devastated and cannot accept his loss. He returns from India with a magic violin. He plays a melody, Le chant de l’amour triomphant which casts a spell on the girl. She sleepwalks into the garden towards the violinist but she is followed by her husband who stabs the musician in a jealous rage. Sometime later the girl is playing the organ when her fingers pick out the shape of Le chant de l’amour triomphant. While she is playing she suddenly feels life kicking inside her.
Chausson is more concerned with atmosphere and emotion than the story detail; the role of the violin in the seduction is obvious. A significant amount of double-stopping is employed and I like to think this might suggest mixed emotions of anxiety and pleading before that beautiful melody properly flowers and persuades the hapless girl, about ten minutes into this performance. It’s hot-house atmosphere again but nicely controlled and for me the highlight of this album.
The ever-popular Max Bruch receives a creditable reading from Steinbacher but once again I would like to have heard just that bit more emotional commitment and the central Adagio is laboured.
Foster’s support is always vivid and colourful, and for the Bruch, I liked his occasional unashamed touches of old-fashioned sentimental portamenti.
The hybrid multi-channel super audio recorded sound is first class, nicely balanced with perspective and detail.
Disappointing Korngold; stick to Heifetz. The Bruch is worthy but there are worthy and worthier alternatives. I will keep the CD for the tingling climax of this Chausson.
Ian Lace
Masterwork Index: Bruch concerto ~~ Korngold concerto