Bruch • Chausson • Korngold
The Korngold Violin Concerto, having evaded the mainstream for decades, has become a firm favourite among younger soloists; Arabella Steinbacher’s is the latest of numerous new recordings to emerge in the past few years. Unfortunately, despite her technically excellent playing, this account falls into all the work’s usual traps, mostly relating to its emotional zeitgeist, or a misunderstanding of it.
The first movement is marked ‘Moderato nobile’, but comes out as something resembling adagio schmalzando: this Concerto is sweet enough already; it doesn’t need five kilos of extra sugar. There’s an essential innocence to the music – optimistic, sunny yet subtle – which is very much of its time and composer. But that doesn’t come through, as Steinbacher and Foster deliver impossibly soggy tempos in the first two movements; in the third, heavy-handedness obliterates the mercurial élan it needs.
Nothing so innocent about the Chausson Poème, a work full of elusive sensuality, inspired by a supernatural story by Turgenev and haunted by the ‘red spectre’ of Wagnerism that Chausson felt unable to escape. Again, Steinbacher’s rich and eloquent tone never falters (though now and then it is forced); but there’s a tendency to get bogged down in detail and for the structure and the momentum to turn swampy.
The evergreen Bruch Concerto No. 1 can withstand this treatment better than its companion pieces, and of course there is no doubting Steinbacher’s refulgent sound or the flair of her delivery. Excellent sound quality, if that helps, but for a more convincing Korngold, Gil Shaham’s, conducted by André Previn catches the idiom ideally.