Notes and Editorial Reviews
Another dazzlingly confident display from one of the most accomplished young fiddlers of our time
No sooner had I put the finishing touches to my review of Joshua Bell's new Sony recording of Goldmark's First Violin Concerto with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic than another, in some ways even more formidable contender came along. Utterly unfazed by the frequently jaw-dropping demands of Goldmark's intricate passagework, Sarah Chang gives what is, on balance, the most dauntingly accurate and charismatic reading of this appealing creation since Perlman's very fine 1978 account with Previn and the Pittsburgh SO. Not only does the easy swagger of her playing often take the breath away, she also displays rather greater fire and temperament than Bell. What's more, she is fortunate indeed to have such a sympathetic partner in James Conlon, who finds more light and shade in Goldmark's writing than does Salonen. True, Conlon's strings can't muster the tonal weight of their Los Angeles counterparts, but the Cologne orchestra's tidy, hard-working contribution gives very real pleasure.
The only place where I part company with these newcomers is in the ravishing central Andante, whose outer portions (to my ears at any rate) tend to lose something in simple innocence at such a self-indulgently protracted tempo (and there's some exaggeratedly soft playing which teeters towards the uncomfortably self-aware). That apart, it is an extremely enjoyable performance of a loveable, slightly garrulous concerto firmly in the Bruch/Tchaikovsky mould. At the risk of repeating myself, however, no modern version comes within hailing distance of Nathan Milstein's legendary 1957 account with Harry Blech and the Philharmonia (breathtaking bravura and aristocratic poise in perfect accord).
Conlon's coupling is not as generous as some but continues the enterprising theme. Goldmark's overture to Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound was first given in Berlin in 1889, when the notorious critic Eduard Hanslick described its creator as a 'poet of the tragic downfall'. It's a well-made, 17-minute tone-poem, stylistically conservative (I was reminded most of Mendelssohn, who had died over 40 years earlier) and hardly earth-shatteringly memorable from a thematic point of view, but enjoyable enough in its sturdily romantic way. Certainly, Conlon and company extract every ounce of eloquence and drama from Goldmark's solid inspiration, and the recording throughout is admirably vivid. A very likeable pairing.
-- Andrew Achenbach, GRAMOPHONE (5/2000)