Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto in a.
Suite de concert
Ilya Gringolts (vn); Ilan Volkov, cond; BBC Scottish SO
HYPERION 67642 (60:18)
Hyperion’s series devoted to “The Romantic Violin Concerto” has reached its seventh installment with Ilya Gringolts’s recording of two Russian works, neither of them new to the catalog but neither familiar, either. Aaron Rosand recorded Anton Arensky’s Violin Concerto in 1973 for Vox (reissued on CD in 1999 as
7211, 23:4) as Alexander Trostiansky did for Chandos in 1996 (9528, 20:5). John Bauman found Trostiansky’s technique “polished” and his tone, “rich.” The Concerto’s melodious, idiomatic writing for the solo instrument recalls now Glazunov, now Conus, and now, perhaps, even Tchaikovsky—the booklet’s notes discuss what has apparently been frequently pointed out as Arensky’s “kinship” with Tchaikovsky. And though the third section,
Tempo di valse
(Arensky cast his brief Concerto in a single movement that falls into several distinctive though continuous sections), bears resemblances to Tchaikovsky’s
, as well as to that composer’s other well-known waltzes proper (Heifetz played it with piano as a sort of encore), the core of this work nevertheless seems softer than that of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. Ilya Gringolts plays with a silky tone and a lush sense of the work’s Romantic atmosphere, yet with all the idiomatic brilliance that the violin part (revised, according to the notes, by Leopold Auer) demands. The engineers have placed Gringolts and the Ruggeri violin on loan to him within the orchestral sound rather than squarely in front of it.
The balance of soloist and orchestra the engineers have created for Gringolts in Arensky’s Concerto continues in his performance of Taneyev’s Suite, a work once championed by David Oistrakh. In fact, I heard Oistrakh’s performance of the piece (I heard, I believe, a performance with Kondrashin, but his reading with Sanderling and the U.S.S.R. State Symphony Orchestra has become available in the fifth volume of Brilliant’s set devoted to Oistrakh, 92609) on the radio several generations ago, and remember that it sounded, upon that first hearing, tame (though not perhaps toothless) and somewhat restrained; nevertheless, it seemed to be something I wanted to explore further through repeated hearings—hearings for which I had no opportunity until years later. The first movement (of five) begins with declamatory quasi-recitative but soon settles into more sedate, ingratiating lyricism, much of the interest of which arises from the composer’s genially subtle harmonic sense. The ensuing Gavotte, good-natured rather than strutting or arch, gives way to a dark, richly orchestrated Andantino (which rises to bolder expressivity near its end). The Theme and Variations (six of them with a finale) serves as the center of gravity of the piece. In the variations, Gringolts deploys his technical and tonal reserves, as in the commanding Second and Sixth (Mazurka) Variations; still, it’s hard to put Oistrakh entirely out of mind in the Sixth Variation. The fugal Fourth combines the composer’s own virtuosity (I remember acquiring Taneyev’s book on invertible counterpoint) with that of the soloist. Gringolts sounds particularly affecting in the last Variation (an Andante), but he displays plenty of brilliant, if fey, energy in the work’s zesty Tarantella finale. Oistrakh dispels whatever impression of tameness I remember from first hearing his recording in the opening pages of the first movement, his double-stops sounding, as a critic once wrote of Kreisler’s, like a string quartet, while Gringolts’s sound, to continue the critic’s evaluation, like those of a single violinist playing double-stops. Violinist Pekka Kuusisto made a similar recording of the work with Ashkenazy and the Helsinki Philharmonic (Ondine 959); Lydia Mordkovich, with Neeme Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos 10491) brings her usual strength to the Suite, though also her tendency to wield a meat-axe rather than a rapier. Still, nobody could charge her with underestimating the work’s large-scale gestures.
While first-time listeners may find, somewhat to their disappointment, that neither of these works generates the visceral excitement (I remember a similar criticism of Glazunov’s Concerto) that they’ve come to expect from the late-19th-century and early-20th-century Russian repertoire, they’re both consistently so well-mannered and so affecting that they provide viable alternatives—at least in these gentler performances—to gentler, though more richly allusive pieces like Wieniawski’s
and Sibelius’s Humoresques. Gringolts, who sparkles in the era’s virtuoso repertoire (Ernst and Wieniawski himself), also brings idiomatic charm to these more retiring cousins. Rosand plays Arensky’s Concerto, accompanied by Froment and the Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg, with a Romantic urgency that made it seem as appealing and accessible as one of the warhorses; Trostiansky (with Yuli Turovsky and I Musici de Montréal) just about equaled him in generating atmosphere, though not perhaps in maintaining the work’s forward thrust. Gringolts seems equally virtuosic, but hardly as redolent or propulsive as either of these soloists. So while Rosand and Oistrakh may remain the top choices in these works, respectively, acquiring both in these sympathetic performances by both soloist and orchestra should provide more than a satisfactory overview. Recommended. Now, Conus, anyone?
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 54 by Anton Arensky
Ilya Gringolts (Violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1891; Russia
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