Notes and Editorial Reviews
James Ehnes turns in an absolutely sensational account of Dvorák's sunny and melodically sumptuous Violin Concerto. His warm, singing tone sounds as if made for this music, whether in the heartfelt slow movement or in his infectious, vivacious account of the finale. Indeed, it's remarkable how idiomatically Ehnes and conductor Gianandrea Noseda capture the spirit of the piece, and note how characterfully Ehnes and the orchestra interact throughout. The violin/timpani duo in the finale is balanced with particular clarity and care, and the rush to the finish is absolutely thrilling. Noseda deserves particular credit for his characterful launching of the concerto's opening, and for the sense of drama he brings to the orchestral tuttis
in the outer movements. This concerto has been making a big comeback in the past few years, rightly so, and while there are numerous excellent recordings (Suk/Ancerl first among them), this rendition belongs in the company of the best.
The Piano Concerto also receives a lively, intelligently shaped performance, once again benefiting from Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic's vigorous participation. There are only two semi-serious reservations, both concerning soloist Rustem Hayroudinoff. He uses a combination of Dvorák's original, Kurz's revision, and his own small modifications of the solo part. Unless you know the piece really well, none of this will be obvious, but it's also unnecessary, and in particular any thickening of the piano writing, adding octaves and arpeggios where Dvorák wrote simpler textures, tends to cover solos in the orchestra that Dvorák clearly intended be heard (in the first movement especially). Then again, Bernstein and Justus Frantz on Sony also use Kurz's revisions and keep everything clear as a bell, so perhaps Hayroudinoff simply needs to better understand what's going on around him.
In the second movement, Hayroudinoff also ignores the increase in speed at the movement's climax, a decision the notes explain as follows: "Hayroudinoff has found his own solutions for staying true to Dvorák's intentions: but his only real liberty has been to maintain the pulse toward the very end of the movement, where Dvorák, in a passage widely held to be ineffective, doubles it." Oh really? In the first place, the score merely indicates "stringendo" (pressing forward), and nowhere indicates that the tempo should be doubled. Second, I have never seen any comment before now indicating that the passage in question, the last in a series of accelerations and returns to tempo primo, is "widely held to be ineffective." By whom? Evidently Hayroudinoff's "solutions" for staying true to Dvorák's intentions do not include following them, and this strikes me as a touch arrogant. More to the point, the practical effect of his decision in the case of the andante is to substitute some heavy-handed banging where Dvorák intended an eruptive surge of excitement.
I don't want to make too much of this. Hayroudinoff plays his part well, particularly in this zippy account of the finale, though not (in my opinion) as memorably as Firkusny (RCA), Richter (EMI), Moravec (Supraphon, Kurz edition), or Frantz on Sony (with Bernstein's wonderfully vital accompaniment). On the other hand, I dislike the condescending attitude. This concerto is not a charity case, and it needs no help or apology. It's tiresome to hear the same old saw: Dvorák wasn't a pianist and so didn't understand how to write for the keyboard. In fact, by all accounts he was a pianist of considerable ability, even if his keyboard style was idiosyncratic or insufficiently virtuosic in the opinion of some. His anti-virtuoso design for this work (which employs the smallest orchestra of his three concertos) was by his own admission intentional, and it theoretically encourages an equality of interchange between solo and ensemble, which is exactly this interpretation's principal weakness.
So: I recommend this disc for the wonderful account of the Violin Concerto by Ehnes. It's a performance that anyone who loves the work will want to hear. Hayroudinoff's rendition of the Piano Concerto is certainly also good from a purely pianistic point of view, and Noseda's contribution is wholly positive, but I wouldn't say that it reveals a deep understanding of the piece on its own terms, and this is certainly possible irrespective of the edition of the solo part employed. A bit less ego from the pianist and we might have had an excellent modern reference edition for both pieces. Terrific sound too.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in G minor, Op. 33/B 63 by Antonín Dvorák
Rustem Hayroudinoff (Piano)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1876; Bohemia
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
James Ehnes (Violin)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia
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