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Brahms, Korngold: Violin Concertos / Znaider, Gergiev

Release Date: 02/03/2009 
Label:  Rca Victor Red Seal Catalog #: 710336   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsErich Wolfgang Korngold
Performer:  Nikolaj Znaider
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Violin Concerto. KORNGOLD Violin Concerto Nikolaj Znaider (vn); Valery Gergiev, cond; Vienna P RCA 710336 (67:34)

In a personal note, Nikolaj Znaider identifies the city of Vienna in general and the Vienna Philharmonic in particular as formative and inspiring influences. Accordingly, his recording with the Orchestra of music by Brahms and Korngold, composers associated, like Znaider, with Vienna, pays a sort of tribute to the city’s Read more musical heritage.

If Gergiev and the Orchestra sound the least bit reserved in the first movement’s opening, Znaider dispels whatever glow they’ve spread with an entry as electrifying as any I’ve heard (I remember my father’s observation that a particular violinist seemed almost to sneak into the tutti). His tone, as edgy as Francescatti’s, might permit him to take a more aggressive tack, but instead he and the Orchestra unpack the work’s lyrical possibilities (note, in particular, the serene passage after the cadenza), although he draws on extraordinary reserves of power and strength in the movement’s climaxes. While his manner may be thoroughly modern, vestigial portamentos, especially those at the most dramatic moments, may remind listeners of a lamented bygone era. Still, fans of Christian Tetzlaff may miss that violinist’s intellectual vigor and those, like me, who admire Leonid Kogan’s white-hot performances of the Concerto, may similarly miss that kind of intensity. Still, there’s no gainsaying the individuality and authority he displays in the cadenza, replete with rhetorical pauses and a generally thoughtful approach to its difficulties, which he endows with perhaps undeserved musical meaning.

The slow movement also breathes relaxation, with Gergiev and the Orchestra accompanying the famous oboe solo with great timbral and melodic sensitivity. Znaider maintains the atmosphere Gergiev and the Orchestra generate, weaving together the solo’s lyrical threads against the Orchestra’s backdrop, as he did in the first movement. The finale, by comparison, sounds massive and somewhat deliberate, though strong accents and sharp articulation underscore its Gypsy origins and the additional weight enhances the coda’s sense of power. The engineers have captured the majestic depth of the Orchestra’s sound, yet the soloist seems always at the forefront (Eric Wen, in his notes, cites Bronislaw Huberman as having considered the violin the winner in this Concerto, which pits soloist against orchestra).

Korngold’s Romanticism, at least by the time of his life during which he wrote his Violin Concerto, may have had its origins in Vienna, but it had been adapted to Hollywood’s sweep and drama. In fact, the Concerto drew explicitly on the composer’s movie music. Heifetz, who gave the Concerto its first performance, played or commissioned works by Eugene Gruenberg, Franz Waxman, and Miklós Rózsa, as well as by Korngold (and recorded several duos with Bing Crosby), had no aversion to this cinematic approach. In fact, it’s hard to listen to the Concerto, even after digesting the very different performances by Leonidas Kavakos (on DVD), Anne-Sophie Mutter (Deutsche Grammophon 000352602, 28:5), and Hilary Hahn (on DVD, “Hilary Hahn: A Portrait,” Deutsche Grammophon 000818309, 30:6), without Heifetz lurking in the corners of the memory. But Gergiev and the Orchestra—and Znaider, too—bring a rhapsodic opulence that transcends even Heifetz. Of course, the older violinist didn’t have the benefit of recorded sound of depth and quality equal to those with which the engineers have served the Znaider and the Orchestra. Nevertheless, Znaider seems almost to equal Heifetz’s brilliance in the first movement’s coda, and he comes close to surpassing him in the way he achieves a high energy level without a hint of brittleness or tautness. That manner allows the first movement’s lyricism to blossom naturally (somehow he manages to knit together often somewhat amorphous-sounding passages) and reveals more of the second movement’s delicately veiled subtlety—in the finale, on the other hand, he and the Orchestra sound bumptious and bracing. Soundtrack-like passages that, as Kolodin suggested, seemed more corn than gold, appear here more tightly integrated into the work’s dramatic and melodic design. For those who haven’t yet found any of the recorded performances of the Concerto, even Heifetz’s, completely satisfying, Znaider’s may reveal the work’s cogency and musical worth. If only Mr. Kolodin could have heard it. Urgently recommended for its penetrating performance of Brahms’s Concerto and for its revelatory one of Korngold’s. More gold, I’d say, than corn.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Performer:  Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; USA 

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