Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [35:23]
Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 (1874) [32:06]
Augustin Hadelich (violin); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko (Tchaikovsky) and Omer Meir Wellber (Lalo)
rec. live Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 17 April 2015 (Lalo), 24 February 2016 (Tchaikovsky)

There is a plethora of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto recordings out there, but this CD is unusual in having the Lalo Symphonie espagnole as its disc mate. Lalo’s “symphonie”, actually a suite for violin and orchestra, used to be very popular. That it isn’t recorded often nowadays makes this new recording an attractive proposition, especially if you are in the market for a very fine account of the Tchaikovsky concerto. Augustin Hadelich and Vasily Petrenko give us a fresh view of the concerto, which is patrician and at the same time lithe. That’s not to suggest that they only skim the surface of the work, but they do not pull it about or distort it in any way. They choose mainstream tempos and stick to them for the most part. Hadelich employs a bit of rubato in the first movement, slightly slowing in the passage before the big orchestral climax where Petrenko picks up the tempo that adds excitement to the tutti. Also, Hadelich is more deliberate in his cadenza than some other violinists—maybe a little too deliberate for some tastes. It did not bother me at all. Hadelich and Petrenko are of one mind in the remaining movements, and the recording of the orchestra displays the wonderful woodwinds to excellent effect. Hadelich plays the second movement Canzonetta simply and beautifully and is bold and fast in the finale where he employs some portamento. The timing of the last movement, on the back of the CD case, is listed as 11 minutes—which may seem excessive—but that is due to nearly a minute of justly deserved applause. While his fireworks are terrific, it is his eloquent playing of the lyrical sections that makes Hadelich’s account of this warhorse stand out from the crowd.

I went back to one of my old favourites, the classic recording of Jascha Heifetz with the Chicago Symphony under Reiner (RCA). That still sounds amazingly good after all these years. There is something to be said for the cuts that were traditional in those days, because the many repeated runs in the last movement can seem excessive. However, I am now used to the unadulterated version of the concerto and realize that it should be played whole. Heifetz is still ‘Heifetz’ and thus brilliant, but I find one focuses more on his fabulous technique than on the music. Still, next to him and to Hadelich/Petrenko, the highly praised account by Vadim Repin with the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev on Philips sounds mannered and wayward. This is particularly apparent as Repin distorts the beginning of the finale and calls attention to himself. The tone from Hadelich’s 1723 Stradivarius is beautifully warm, not diamond brilliant like Heifetz’s or as sumptuous as Repin’s. Hadelich’s recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto impresses me greatly and I will listen to it again the next time I want to hear the work.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, on the other hand, will not grace my CD player often in the foreseeable future. It’s not that Hadelich’s performance, accompanied well by the London Philharmonic under Omer Meir Wellber, a conductor new to me, is in any way inferior to his Tchaikovsky. I had not listened to the piece for many years and had to go back to an old LP with Henryk Szeryng and the Chicago Symphony to find an account in my collection. Lalo’s ‘Spanish Symphony’ is tuneful and well orchestrated, but rather shallow in its view of a foreign land south of France. Overall, Lalo cannot be compared with Bizet or Debussy, to cite two of the celebrated Frenchmen who were enamoured of the music of Spain. Of Lalo’s compositions I much prefer the Cello Concerto, which has at least some depth and is also quite tuneful. Hadelich plays the violin work straight, without schmaltz, as if he really believes in it. Wellber is with him all the way and they are given splendid sound. I have been impressed with other LPO recordings and this one in no way disappoints. I sampled another recent account, that by Renaud Capuçon and Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi (Erato). Hadelich/Wellber compare well, even if Capuçon’s performance contains perhaps more French elegance. It’s a close call. Strangely, unlike the Tchaikovsky, applause is omitted after the Lalo that follows it on the disc.

LPO provides informative notes on the works and the performers. If you are interested in an up-to-date recording of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole and want one of the finest accounts in my opinion of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, then you need look no further.

Leslie Wright

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