Tchaikovsky • Mendelssohn
Last year, violinist Ray Chen’s debut CDs were a real tonic, marrying effortless virtuosity with musicianship of the highest order, and I’m delighted to report that his first concerto recording maintains his high standards. Both he and Daniel Harding understand the differences between these two masterpieces,
with the Mendelssohn having a foot in both Classical and Romantic camps, and the Tchaikovsky altogether more full-blooded.
Just listening to each of the opening movements shows how well these differences are characterised: the Tchaikovsky is more flexible in pulse, but never loses direction, and the Mendelssohn pushes forward, especially in the purely orchestral sections. Chen’s tone is purer in the Mendelssohn, and in the Tchaikovsky he allows himself some delicious (and sometimes wicked) portamentos, seamlessly spinning the notes in the smooth melodic lines.
It’s in the slow movements that the two Concertos come closest together, but even here there’s a contrast of approach, with the Mendelssohn lighter and more transparent. All this is helped by splendidly balanced playing from the Swedish Radio Symphony, captured by equally excellent recording: detail, especially in the wind, shows the care that Harding has lavished on the music.
Both finales have a strong dance feel, with the Mendelssohn soaring in the air, and the Tchaikovsky more earthy, reflecting the folk element which is stronger here than in the rest of the concerto, although never completely absent. A completely captivating issue.