Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pavel Šporcl (vn); Ji?í Kout, cond; Prague SO
SUPRAPHON 3962 (58:24) Live: Prague 6/24/2008;
Pavel Šporcl, according to the notes, seems to be a sort of Czech Nigel Kennedy: a sort of rock
star of the violin (he plays a blue one, made by the Czech Jan Špidlen in 2005, which, the booklet specifies, has been protected by Communitary design No. 673157 (if Stradivari or the Amatis, Guarneris, Guadagninis, or Gaglianos had similarly protected their designs, we all might be playing violins shaped like cigar boxes, unless box manufacturers had protected that geometric pattern, too, as a communitary design).
Richard Strauss’s early Violin Concerto languished for many years, with few recordings (the first I heard, that by my teacher, Carroll Glenn, with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, didn’t seem to realize the Concerto’s bravura style). The CD era has been kinder to the work, including readings by Sarah Chang on EMI 568702, 23:5, Ingolf Turban (Claves 50-9318, 17:3), Boris Belkin (London 436 415, 17:4), and Xue-Wei (with Christopher Headington’s Concerto, ASV 780, 15:4). Vlasta Reittererová’s informative and highly readable notes suggest that Sarasate’s unwillingness to take it up may have been a blow to its very early acceptance; it’s easy to hear how that violinist might have sparkled in some of its passages, so similar to those of Bériot and Vieuxtemps. Šporcl, had he been alive at the time and so inclined, might have done yeoman service to the piece. His flourishing entry in the first movement (which establishes at once his committed championship), his command of both the technical and lyrical passages, and not least, his close collaboration with Kout and the Orchestra (who strut and swagger through the movement), lend his reading a flamboyance that Sara Chang’s seems, perhaps only by comparison, to lack (as, to an even greater degree, does Xue-Wei’s). Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein had a way of playing less than first-rate works with the same authority they brought to masterpieces, and Šporcl, at least in this case, demonstrates a similar ability, or at least dedication (he even plays an occasional portamento that fits the Concerto’s rather old-fashioned ambiance). Soloist and Orchestra create a calm interlude in the slow movement, to which they bring refined and hushed sensibility that reveals the poignancy beneath its somewhat placid surface. Šporcl adapts himself to the finale’s mercurial changes, the mix of elfin brilliance and affecting cantabile relieved by an episode of cocky posturing.
There’s been no paucity of recordings of Korngold’s ingratiating Concerto; and among even the most recent of which (not to mention Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, and Anne-Sophie Mutter), readings by James Ehnes (CBC 5241, 32:3), Nikolaj Znaider (RCA 710336, 32: 6), and Philippe Quint (Naxos 8.570791, 33:2) could offer for some an alternative to Heifetz’s white-hot Romantic early versions (the notes make it clear that although Korngold conceived the Concerto for Bronislaw Huberman, Heifetz spurred him to complete it and gave its premiere). Unlike Strauss’s Concerto, therefore, Korngold’s made the most auspicious entry on the musical scene, and began its life on disc with a blockbuster recording. Kout and the Orchestra realize the Concerto’s cinematic sweep; and although Šporcl plays with an opulent ebb and flow in the first movement, he doesn’t recreate Heifetz’s sense of urgency (he’s more achingly lyrical than Znaider or Quint), at least until the very end. In the slow movement, Šporcl pierces the Orchestra’s nebulous haze with thrilling tonal command and evident sympathy for the style. The engineers transmit the score’s timbral nuance, helping clinch the musical argument, even in moments of relative stasis toward the movement’s end. As throughout the recording, they’ve achieved an almost perfect balance of soloist and orchestra. If Šporcl doesn’t at first carry the listener along with him in the finale’s main theme, he manages to serve as a foil for the orchestra’s bumptious jollity; and he blazes through the solo’s intricate thematic elaborations. But Šporcl doesn’t ignore the strain of modernity underlying the genial consonance, and his reading brings the movement closer to the thumping finale of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto than listeners might have suspected had been possible.
Despite the great number of cogent performances of Korngold’s Concerto, Šporcl’s coupling with a bracing version of Strauss’s should appeal strongly to collectors of all kinds. Recommended across the board.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
"Well first of all I’ve always tried to play as best I could, but I thought of doing the violin concert business in a little bit different way than usual, so I decided not to play in tails, I played in just a shirt and trousers and wore a bandana around my head. And I tried to be as close to the young public as possible. I wanted to show them that a young person can also play classical music, and that they don’t have to be apprehensive about going to the concerts or about listening to classical music. And I think that’s what made the difference. Now I don’t play in a bandana any more, but I have a blue violin. Again, it’s a thing with which I try to change the classical scene a little bit in my own way. And I think that’s the thing that makes me different, that’s what I want to do."
[Pavel Šporcl, in an interview with Prague Radio, see http://www.radio.cz/en/article/114634]
Remind you of anyone? Perhaps some of the influence of Aston Villa FC’s most famous supporter, currently resident in Kraków, Poland, has seeped across the border into the neighbouring Czech Republic ...
Thankfully, though, apart from commissioning that trademark blue violin, Šporcl has so far avoided the personal excesses that brought Nigel Kennedy so much criticism (in 1991, for example, the then Controller of BBC Radio 3 John Drummond referred to him as "a Liberace for the Nineties" and attacked his "ludicrous clothes and grotesque, self-invented accent”.) So how does Šporcl fare in what he calls the “violin concert business”?
Interest in Korngold’s music has increased considerably in the past forty years and the violin concerto, initially derided as a Hollywood-derived potboiler, is now one of the best known of the composer’s works. Hence the Czech enters an increasingly competitive field.
You might assume, from the soloist’s own words, quoted above, that his might be a crowd-pleasing, superficial account. But in fact he gives us a perfectly respectable, if at times rather saccharine, performance. Just the opening few minutes give a good indication of what is to come, with Šporcl offering a far more dreamy and ruminative interpretation than can be heard on the benchmark Heifetz recording - still sounding very good for its age. It is all actually rather beautifully done and, if you are used only to the much more direct and driven Heifetz interpretation of the concerto, that may come as something of a surprise. The first two movements are especially successful with that approach but Šporcl is winningly vivacious, too, in the lively finale, where the interplay with the orchestra is particularly nicely constructed.
The Strauss concerto is a teenage composition, written, unsurprisingly, before the composer had found his distinctive musical voice. It has never really established itself in the regular repertoire. Strauss himself was eventually quite dismissive of it, remarking that “no one should have written a thing like that after Brahms”. But, putting the composer’s reservations about style to one side, the “thing” is nevertheless a more than competently written work that deserves an occasional outing.
Pavel Šporcl is clearly committed to giving it his best and his performance here is a most enjoyable one. Once again, he is slightly less direct and fleet of foot than some of his competitors. Thus, while Ulf Hoelscher (Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe, 1976) brings the first movement in at 14:58 and Xue-Wei (London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jane Glover, 1991) at 14:57, Šporcl takes 15:39. The tendency is even more marked in their respective timings for the presto finale - 7:48, 7:37 and 8:54. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this new and distinctive account very much.
I do, though, have a slight reservation regarding the acoustics of the Smetana Hall in Prague. While the recorded sound is certainly pleasantly warm, it is also rather resonant and so, while the soloist is very well recorded, the last degree of clarity within the orchestral ranks is sometimes lost. The audience’s response to these live performances is enthusiastic, all the same, as, on the whole, is my own.
-- Rob Maynard, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Pavel Sporcl (Violin)
Prague Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1945; USA
Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 8 by Richard Strauss
Pavel Sporcl (Violin)
Prague Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1880-1882; Germany
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