Mendelssohn; Tchaikovsky

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn; Tchaikovsky
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186504 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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From the outset of the Mendelssohn, it’s clear that Arabella Steinbacher and Charles Dutoit are treating it as a big Romantic concerto. Yes, the first movement is marked Allegro molto appassionato, but there’s more of the appassionato than the allegro here, so the forward momentum of the music is often compromised by affectionate lingering. And, surprisingly from a conductor as experienced as Dutoit, there are a few patches where ensemble with Steinbacher isn’t absolutely solid. In the Andante, her vibrato is omnipresent, overlaying the gentle simplicity of the music with something dangerously close to sentimentality. The finale restores the balance with some of the energy which was missing from the first movement, but again the knife-edge precision of ensemble isn’t always there.

Steinbacher’s sound is a better fit with the Tchaikovsky, although there’s again a tendency to draw things out and lose impetus: the lyrical second theme is especially coloured by this. She does shape the cadenza well though, and there’s no doubting her technical prowess.

Soloist and orchestra are generally well served by the recording engineers: sometimes the winds are too forward, which affects some places in the slow movement. The decorated reprise of the main theme is nicely balanced though, and this is the place where musical intent and realisation come together most completely – the finale begins with great panache, but sits down too much in the Russian interludes. For this coupling, I’d go for Ray Chen, who acknowledges the differences between the concertos, and gives the music purpose.

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Martin Cotton