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Britten, Weinberg: Violin Concertos / Roth, Kutson

Britten
Release Date: 04/08/2014 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72627   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenMieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Linus Roth
Conductor:  Mihkel Kütson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRITTEN Violin Concerto. WEINBERG Violin Concerto Linus Roth (vn); Mihkel Kütson, cond; Deutsches SO Berlin CHALLENGE 72627 (SACD: 62:50)

I am losing count of the number of new recordings of Britten’s Violin Concerto, op. 15. One of the composer’s early masterpieces, this powerful work was written while Britten and Pears were in Canada during the Second World War and had its Read more premiere in New York under Barbirolli. It was recorded by Nora Grumlíková for Supraphon in the 1960s––not Wanda Wilkomirska as I erroneously stated in another review––but remained relatively unfamiliar until Britten himself made a recording with the Soviet violinist Mark Lubotsky in 1970. It has entered the repertory in no uncertain terms since then, having been recorded memorably by Ida Haendel, Lorraine McAslan, Maxim Vengerov, Daniel Hope, Tasmin Little, and Anthony Marwood––and these are just the ones in my collection. Weinberg’s Violin Concerto of 1959 boasts no such legacy. There are three previous recordings to my knowledge: a performance by the original dedicatee, Leonid Kogan, and conductor Kirill Kondrashin on an impossible-to-find Olympia disc, a historical live recording from 1961, also with Kogan, and a more recent Naxos disc with Kogan’s pupil Ilya Grubert (sensibly coupled with Myaskovsky’s Concerto).

Linus Roth is a young German violinist. He started winning prizes in the mid-1990s, so I would estimate his age to be around 30. (His web site gives no year of his birth.) The Estonian conductor Mihkel Kütson is also a youthful prizewinner. They share a specific approach to the Britten Concerto: restrained in tempo, and making the most of occasional moments of grandeur. The central climax of the second movement (preceding the cadenza) and the passacaglia finale gain in stature from the breadth of Roth and Kütson’s interpretation. Some urgency is lost elsewhere, but their pacing eventually pays off. Roth’s expansive, lyrical, and ultimately moving interpretation is far removed from Marwood’s swift, incisive reading, which emphasizes the Modernist side of the work. Each is a valid interpretation, and both violinists (and their conductors) justify their approach.

Roth is something of a specialist in Weinberg’s music, having recorded all the works for violin and piano. Indeed, the music of Mieczys?aw Weinberg (1919–1996) has been undergoing a major resurgence, with many of his symphonies and concertos appearing on disc over the last decade. Some commentators regard him as a lightweight Shostakovich, claiming his work resembles that of his mentor and friend without the emotional depth. It is true that this concerto recalls Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto in its four-movement structure, but any glib comparisons are put decisively to rest by Roth’s committed performance, especially his soulful rendering of the slow movement. This is music of a heartfelt purity and optimism that Shostakovich was increasingly unable to achieve without irony. In this performance, the sense of urgency that might have more fully informed Roth’s Britten Concerto is present in spades. Roth and Kütson make a case for Weinberg’s Concerto to be regarded as one of the major works of the 20th century; they certainly play it as though it were.

I was unable to source comparative recordings for Weinberg’s Concerto. I imagine Kogan would be authoritative but poorly recorded––his recordings date from the 1960s, an era not noteworthy for audio sophistication in Russia. Ten years ago, Fanfare ’s violin specialist Robert Maxham recommended the Grubert recording (27: 6––look under Vainberg). I have not heard it, but it would have to be brilliant to top this one, which also boasts a strong orchestral response and exceptional sound. It is apparently the first SACD recording of Britten’s Concerto.

The disc is recommended for the Weinberg––a work urgently worth getting to know––and for an idiosyncratic but effective rendition of the Britten.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 15 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Linus Roth (Violin)
Conductor:  Mihkel Kütson
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939/1958; England 
Venue:  Jesus Christus Kirche Berlin, Dahlem 
Length: 34 Minutes 2 Secs. 
2.
Concerto for Violin in G minor, Op. 67 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Linus Roth (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USSR 
Venue:  Jesus Christus Kirche Berlin, Dahlem 
Length: 28 Minutes 43 Secs. 

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