Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 5
Michael Antonello (vn); Philip Greenberg, cond; National SO of Ukraine
MJA PRODUCTIONS (2CDs: 81:02)
Violinist Michael Antonello, who has seemed for the last several years intent on recording the lion’s share of the standard repertoire for solo violin, for violin and orchestra, and
for violin and piano, claims in his note to his set of concertos by Antonín Dvorák, Max Bruch, and Henri Vieuxtemps, that this will be his last effort in the genre. In
34:3, I recommended his performances of violin concertos by Johannes Brahms and Bruch (No. 1) for their freshness; and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to trace his violinistic development (or recovery—since he had devoted a number of years to building his insurance business).
The first disc comprises only Dvorák’s Violin Concerto. Antonello sounds authoritative—but what’s more, insinuatingly ethnic, in the striking opening statement. In general, his ensuing passagework sounds sharp-edged and even dances on that edge, although he never seems in danger of overexposing the work’s darker Slavic coloration. The engineers miked him very closely; but that shouldn’t bother those who have tolerated such proximity in recordings of the violinists of the “golden age.” Antonello endows the slow movement with idiomatic fervor, engaging in rapt, deeply touching dialog with Philip Greenberg and the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine, especially at the movement’s center. Whatever the technical challenges the finale poses, Antonello again manages to make the passagework dance.
Joseph Joachim, who took an active role in shaping the violin part, may after all have been right in his disapproval of the work in general; in fact, some may feel that even benchmark recordings by Joseph Suk, David Oistrakh, and Nathan Milstein fail to make a completely satisfactory case for it. In blending comfortable tempos with bright-sounding technique, effervescence in the outer movements, and individuality in all three, Antonello has come nearly as close to the musical mark as have those earlier landmarks.
, Antonello takes on what many consider Jascha Heifetz’s very best recording (referring to the third of three—the second, from November 7, 1946, with Frieder Weissmann and the RCA Victor Orchestra, remained unpublished until recently); and David Oistrakh’s studio recording with Jascha Horenstein from 1962 always seemed to me to be at least its equal. Neither of them, however, enjoyed the kind of clarity that the engineers have brought to Antonello’s performance. But Antonello has more than engineering to help him. He soars into the upper registers with portamentos that, if not so attention-grabbing as Heifetz’s, seem as well planned and nearly as skillfully executed. In the first movement, Antonello’s double-stops prove just a bit of a challenge to him, though he sails through them with aplomb; and he takes flight in the second with breezy energy and infectious enthusiasm, while Greenberg and the orchestra—as well as the engineers—reveal a great deal of the orchestral detail that buoys him. He plays the third movement with warm ethnic sentiment, again setting his 1742 Rabinoff Guarneri del Gesù free to soar; and he makes an appropriately war-like impression in the
. Michael Rabin created one of his most stylish renditions in the
, but Antonello’s has more rye in it.
Vieuxtemps’s Fifth Concerto vies with his Fourth nowadays as his most frequently recorded work. Again, Heifetz made its landmark recordings: one from 1947 and the other from 1961, both with Malcolm Sargent. Again, then, Antonello has bitten off a large cud to chew. He makes an auspicious, swooping entry in the first movement and delivers the cantilena with the stylistic aplomb necessary to make an impression in this work, which some have considered a glass half empty rather than half full. In fact, he wears the mantle of the big, bow-wow style (and deploys all the appropriate technical apparatus, like portamentos and finger substitutions) more convincingly than does Massimo Quarta (Dynamic 640,
33:6) and Cory Cerovcek, Claves 50-2801,
33:1), creating genuine excitement in a warhorse that some may feel should long ago have been retired from the field of battle. He makes similarly strong rhetorical points in the cadenza, plays with noble sensibility in the slow movement, and brings the work to a dashing conclusion. If the concerto seems tired to the point of exhaustion in so many performances, it may be because the violinists in question have tired of it. It’s clear that Antonello hasn’t.
So what’s happened to Antonello over the years? He’s advanced by leaps and bounds in technical security. But by some miracle, he hasn’t, in the manner of conservatory graduates who seem to have studied too long, lost any of his enthusiasm or his sheer joy in playing the violin. Those qualities remain as apparent in this set of performances as they did in his earlier recording of concertos by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. That’s why it’s easy to recommend this set more widely than simply to Antonello’s followers and admirers. If none of these readings reach the very top, none of them fall much below it. That’s a significant accomplishment for Michael J. Antonello. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Michael Antonello (Violin)
Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia
Be the first to review this title