This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
BLOCH Baal Shem. BERNSTEIN Serenade. BARBER Violin Concerto • Vadim Gluzman (vn); John Neschling, cond; São Paulo SO • BIS SACD-1662 (70:31)
VadimRead more Gluzman’s collection of American-made concerto-like pieces for violin and orchestra strings together a garland of concerted works written between 1923 (Bloch’s work, though the composer orchestrated it only in 1939) and 1954 (Bernstein’s Serenade), with Barber’s Romantic concerto falling almost exactly halfway between them (1939). All three allow the violin to sing as though in the shower (or, at least, in a strongly tonal ambiance). Gluzman plays these works on the 1690 Auer Stradivari on loan to him.
Gluzman plays the lyrical opening of Bernstein’s five-movement Serenade with commanding warmth, soaring into the upper registers with a tone that remains strong and pure throughout, seeming, as does the violin at the close of Berg’s Violin Concerto, to gather all the melodic strands into it. But Gluzman has the technical edge and musical wit to enliven the movement proper as well. Neschling and the orchestra follow him from solemnity through whimsy to the abrupt conclusion. Gluzman is mercurial in the central Presto; in the fourth movement, however, perhaps the most deeply probing of the five, he fuses sensitivity and intensity. And his cocky jazz-like approach in the last movement sounds as idiomatic as tantalizing; his playing scintillates in the final pages as he brings the work to a breathtaking conclusion. If his performance lacks the robust ruddiness of Isaac Stern’s or the edgy brilliance of Zino Francescatti’s early ones (Stern, reissued on Sony SM3K 45956 and Francescatti, from Columbia ML 6458, MS 7058, or Sony SMK 60559, both with the composer conducting), it still makes a cogent case for the work. James H. North thought Itzhak Perlman and Seiji Ozawa—EMI 5 55360—lacked the “fire and intensity” of Stern. The dashing Francescatti, on the other hand, seemed temperamentally even more suited to the Serenade and sympathetic to the jazz-like passages in its finale. With these, the more workmanlike Hu Kun (Nimbus NI 539; Fanfare 15:6) and Hilary Hahn on Sony SK 60584, whose performance seemed marred by what I considered a lackluster middle movement, simply don’t seem competitive, though Joshua Bell’s way on Sony SK 89358 takes account of the work’s breezy Americanisms.
Gluzman possesses sufficient tonal beauty and Romantic sensibility to make Bloch’s triptych glow from the inside, not only the familiar central Nigun but the first movement (Vidui) as well. The Nigun, however, sounds especially convincing, with virtually unequaled dramatic urgency and quasi-improvisatory passion, and the orchestra provides a lush cinematic backdrop. The striking clarity of his tone production adds bright highlights to his jubilant reading of the finale. This piece has been a warhorse for violinists as unlike as Arthur Grumiaux (who played the Nigun on video), Isaac Stern in a direct and at the same time glowing performance, and Jascha Heifetz, who also played the Nigun. According to violinist Sergiu Schwarz, Bloch himself didn’t like too Eastern an approach to the work, preferring a more dignified, noble vision. Gluzman’s should appeal to those who feel both sides tugging.
However compelling his performance of the finale of Bloch’s Baal Shem may be, however, his collaboration with Neschling and the orchestra in the first movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto equals it in rhetorical flair. They rise far above the level of a blandly melodious run-through, illuminating many corners of the movement that a dimmer light might leave in the shadows. If they don’t sustain this level of dynamism in the second movement, that may only be because the Andante itself demands greater tranquility, at least in its outer sections (both soloist and orchestra rise to the expressive demands of its central section). And Gluzman makes a tour de force out of the finale’s perpetual motion. Isaac Stern almost raised this concerto out of recording limbo, although Robert Gerle had recorded it for Westminster (19045; 17045). I’ve described both performances as “arid,” and considered Itzhak Perlman’s (EMI Classics 7243 5 55360 2 0) similar to Stern’s. Those who prefer a lusher approach might now eagerly adopt Gluzman’s reading, just as they once might have Gil Shaham’s (on Deutsche Grammophon 439886-2).
BIS’s recorded sound, in the stereo format in which I listened, combines bite with warmth, edge with sonorousness, detail with depth. On the whole, Gluzman’s performances, urgently recommendable individually, raise the collection, through their combined contributions, to an even higher level.