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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Tchaikovsky Treasures
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 (1878) [34.31]
Pas de deux from Swan Lake [6.54]
Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin [4.51]
Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin [11.02]
Sérénade mélancolique, op. 26 (1875) [9.10]
Valse Scherzo, op. 34 (1877) [5.54]
Guy Braunstein (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 2018 Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
PENTATONE PTC5186747 SACD [70.23]

This is Guy Braunstein’s first album ‘Tchaikovsky Treasures’ on the Pentatone label and he has chosen an attractive programme of Tchaikovsky’s works for violin and orchestra featuring the great Violin Concerto and five shorter pieces including three of his own arrangements.

The main work here the Violin Concerto was written by Tchaikovsky during a rapid burst of activity in 1879. It was originally intended for soloist Leopold Auer who turned it down initially, considering the work unplayable. Tchaikovsky re-dedicated the score to Adolph Brodsky who gave the première under Hans Richter in 1881 in Vienna. Demonstrating calm authority during this masterwork Braunstein in the opening movement Allegro moderato conveys summery, uplifting playing of a marked romantic accent. There is a weeping tenderness to the Andante that feels profoundly affecting and the spirited Finale marked Allegro vivacissimo is played resolutely. Throughout Braunstein plays with clean articulation and pin-point intonation and the Slavic and Russian folk-melodies are particularly evident, especially in the Finale.

My first choice recording of the concerto remains the unwaveringly passionate and intense now ‘classic’ 1981 Saint Eustache account from Kyung-Wha Chung with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Charles Dutoit on Decca (c/w Mendelssohn Violin Concerto). Worthy of note too is the dramatic playing by Vadim Repin with the Kirov Orchestra, St Petersburg under Valery Gergiev recorded at Mikkelin Mikaeli Concert Hall, Finland in 2002 on Philips (c/w Myaskovsky Violin Concerto).

Braunstein has included on this collection the Sérénade mélancolique from 1875 the first work for violin and orchestra that Tchaikovsky wrote, and the Valse Scherzo composed a couple of years later. Whilst conducting a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin Braunstein became inspired by Tatiana’s Letter Scene and set about transcribing the piece for violin and orchestra. Later he also prepared transcriptions of the Pas de deux from the ballet Swan Lake and also Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin. The glorious melodic lines of Braunstein’s transcriptions work so well, even though detached from the words, in the case of the two set-pieces from Eugene Onegin and with the Pas de deux removed from the visual spectacle of Swan Lake. In effect Braunstein is continuing the tradition that Leopold Auer kindled of making transcriptions of Tchaikovsky scores, and widening the violin repertoire following in the footsteps of renowned virtuosi Heifetz, Kreisler and Joachim. Braunstein plays these showpieces beautifully and his performances are enjoyable in every respect. Under the direction of Kirill Karabits, the BBC Symphony Orchestra maintain an elevated level of performance
providing warm, vibrant playing which is entirely sensitive to the soloist’s needs.

Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London under studio conditions, the sound quality of this SACD (played on my standard player) is most satisfactory. Nevertheless, the engineers have recorded Braunstein’s violin, a Francesco Ruggeri (Cremona 1679), with a cool, clear focus, although for my ideal a richer, warmer tone is preferable for these works and maybe the soloist could be set just a touch further forward. With regard to the orchestra, the sound is stunningly recorded. A credit to author Jörg Peter Urbach the booklet essay titled ‘A life alternating between tragedy and bliss’ is both interesting and helpful.

From start to finish Guy Braunstein excels, a sterling advocate for Tchaikovsky’s glorious works for violin and orchestra.

Michael Cookson

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