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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in g Op.26 [26:09]
Violin Concerto in e Op.64 [29:10]
Shlomo Mintz (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. 1980, venue not specified
PENTATONE PTC5186208 SACD [55:23]

The Russian-born Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz made his concert debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the tender age of 11. Shortly after, he stepped in to perform Paganini’s First Violin Concerto when Itzhak Perlman fell ill, and made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 16. An extensive European tour in 1977 established his international reputation and a series of recordings for Deutsche Grammophon followed. The first album to be released, when the violinist was aged 23, was this 1980 recording of the Mendelssohn and Bruch violin concertos, with Claudio Abbado conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The original quadraphonic release has now been fully re-mastered and issued on CD by Pentatone. The couplings of short pieces by Kreisler have been removed from the original LP compilation and the playing time of 55 minutes isn’t very generous by CD standards. Pentatone has managed the transfer very well.

The solo playing by Mintz is immaculate and the orchestra plays beautifully for Abbado but there is something strangely unsatisfying about the whole thing. The orchestral recording is bright by the usual DG standards and just about avoids becoming fierce in the loudest passages. The solo violin is placed so far forward that some orchestral detail is lost. Mintz sails through the spotlight test with some ease but as a listening experience the huge violin image soon becomes tiring. At least the sound of the violin is attractive, with no ugly scrapes or rough edges.

Immaculate technique and perfect intonation are all well and good but music needs to offer much more than that to connect with the listener. In his attempt to be note-perfect Mintz sounds nervous and laboured. The opening passage of the Bruch is so ponderous that you wonder if the soloist is just scared to death of making a mistake. There is no spontaneity, it sounds mechanical. Some of the interpretative touches along the way also sound contrived. The glorious Adagio doesn’t disappoint but it rarely fails to be honest. The Finale has patches of brilliance and some lovely G string tone but in other places the tendency to play safe comes back to the surface.

Just like the Bruch, the Mendelssohn also opens a little ponderously. The glorious second subject sounds overdone and fussy and it misses the legato flow that you get in the finest versions. The Adagio is nicely done and here we do get a true legato. Maybe the young soloist had relaxed at this point and forgotten that he was making a record for posterity. The Finale is neat and tidy but lacks the fire and forward momentum you would expect in a live performance.

This is an early glimpse of a great violinist in the making. Everything is there except for relaxation and spontaneity in the studio environment. Despite the immaculate playing the spirit of the music has eluded him. I’m sorry that I can’t be more enthusiastic.

John Whitmore



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