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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.351 [35:10]
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op.332 (arr. for viola, string ensemble and piano by Yvan Cassar) [16:52]
Nemanja Radulović (violin1, viola2)
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra/Sascha Goetzel1
Double Sens String Ensemble; Stéphanie Fontanarosa (piano)2
rec. Istinye Borusan Oto, Istanbul, February – March 20161; Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade, April 20172. DDD.

The booklet notes for this new CD face the question which has doubtless formed in your minds as well as in mine: why should a young and comparatively untried violinist launch into the Tchaikovsky concerto? And so soon after DG had released Lisa Batiashvili’s account of the same work with the Berlin Staatskapelle and Daniel Barenboim, more generously coupled with the Sibelius Violin Concerto (4796038 – Recording of the Month). Dig a little deeper into the DG catalogue and the classic David Oistrakh recording with Franz Konwitschny and the Dresden Staatskapelle remains available (Originals 4474272, 2 CDs, with Bach and Brahms). That’s to name just two of the many recordings of the work on DG alone.

Hi-res fans can download both the Batiashvili and the new recording in 24-bit sound, but I listened to both in plain old 16-bit: the former as a download, the latter on CD. Anne Sophie Mutter’s recording with André Previn and the VPO can be obtained on one of the dwindling number of SACDs (4748742, with Korngold Violin Concerto – review). Oistrakh’s 1954 mono sound clearly cannot compete, but not too many allowances have to be made to enjoy this glorious performance. It’s been a while since I listened  to this performance, which I owned on a DG Heliodor LP way back, and I enjoyed remaking its acquaintance via Naxos Music Library. I last visited and enjoyed this old friend on a Beulah reissue where it comes on a single album, more logically coupled with other Tchaikovsky (3PDR16 – DL News 2015/8).

Batiashvili and Barenboim adopt a somewhat leisurely approach by comparison with Oistrakh and Konwitschny. Despite the high praise which this account has received – not just here on MusicWeb – this is just too indulgent for my top ten, despite some fabulous solo playing and very fine accompaniment. It’s not even that I find Batiashvili’s enthusiasm too tempered by Barenboim’s upholstered approach, as I’ve seen suggested; I think both guilty of loving the music a little too much. I have no complaints, however, about the very fine DG recording, with ideal balance between soloist and orchestra.

The booklet which comes with that earlier DG release is minimal on details but large on photos of Batiashvili, alone or with Barenboim. Like so many recent releases on the yellow label, it seems to be more about publicity than information. The new recording contains a more substantial booklet, but the words are still out-numbered by the publicity shots. The name of Nemanja Radulović appears in larger type and bolder than that of Tchaikovsky on both the cover and the CD label, the former graced by a romantically brooding soloist. On both of these recent recordings the cult of the personality seems to have invaded DG.

Though he doesn’t seem to have crossed the MusicWeb radar with his earlier CDs, Radulović’s performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the RPO and Grzegorz Nowak in 2010 won plaudits from Seen and Heard colleague Bob Briggs, who wrote that ‘he never allowed his obviously spectacular technique [to] get in the way of the music making’ – review. The same can be said of this recording: the wild-looking cover-shot may encourage the prospective purchaser to expect the sort of over-the-top performance which produces wild applause at a Proms performance but doesn’t add up for repeated hearing. Excitement there is, as witness the end of the first movement, but this is a thoughtful performance, too.

There’s no sense of hurry in the slow movement, though Radulović and Goetzel move the music along rather more briskly than Batiashvili and Barenboim and slightly faster than Oistrakh and Konwitschny. The finale is not rushed – the overall tempo, somewhere between my two comparisons, crowns a performance which I enjoyed much more than I had expected.

On my other long-standing favourite recording Kyung-Wha Chung with the LSO and André Previn adopt a brisk tempo for the finale and, with the generous coupling of a fine account of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and ADD recording which remains competitive, that remains my overall recommendation at mid-price (Decca Originals 4757734).

With sympathetic accompaniment from the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and Sascha Goetzel, however, I could happily live with the new recording. I last encountered them in a recording of Sheherazade which I liked despite the ‘oriental’ additions, though Rob Maynard was more doubtful – review. This time there are no additions to worry about.

As I was completing this review, however, I see that Stuart Sillitoe was less impressed – review – so those able to do so might wish to sample first from Naxos Music Library. That’s particularly relevant because I do agree with Stuart that the decision to complete the album with an arrangement for viola and chamber ensemble of the beautiful Rococo Variations simply doesn’t work. The cello tone is central to the appeal of that work and while the viola makes a sort of replacement, the effect is rather like Dr Johnson’s dictum on dogs standing on hind legs – it’s not well done but the miracle is that it can be done at all. Like Stuart, I found the piano especially out of place. Thus an enjoyable performance of the concerto is spoiled by a bizarre choice of coupling.

Overall, then, my preferences are unchanged: in the concerto Oistrakh and Konwitschny in their classic DG recording, Chung and Previn (Decca) or Artur Grumiaux with the NPO and Jan Krenz, though that’s tied up in a multi-CD box, download only (47578251). For the Rococo Variations, it has to be Mstislav Rostropovich, with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky in Leningrad (DG Eloquence 4806569) or Herbert von Karajan in Berlin (DG Originals 4474132, or DG Karajan Master Recordings 4777158), all at mid-price.

1 Presto offer the Tchaikovsky from this album separately, in mp3 or lossless sound, and some download sources offer the budget-price Philips Duo 2-CD set with the Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos, which can also be streamed by subscribers from Naxos Music Library.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe



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