COMPOSERS: Bruch & Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Bruch & Mendelssohn
WORKS: Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 26
PERFORMER: Robert McDuffie (violin); Scottish CO/Joseph Swensen
CATALOGUE NO: CD 80507
The opening of the Mendelssohn promises well: the orchestral figures pleasingly buoyant, with Robert McDuffie’s sweet tone and elegant phrasing achieving a seemingly effortless take-off above. Admittedly McDuffie sounds a bit lightweight on first acquaintance, but there’s no question of him blandly repeating traditional expressive formulae. Clearly he means to approach this music afresh, like conductor Joseph Swensen, and treat it with all the loving seriousness it deserves. Fine, and yet before too long it becomes equally clear that McDuffie’s sweetly pulsing vibrato is pretty much a musical constant. He does vary its speed and breadth a little at key points, but with every solo entry there it is, throbbing away, just as before. Nikolaj Znaider, whose Mendelssohn I raved about in the February issue, also uses vibrato extensively, and in a fairly traditional Romantic manner, but he knows how to inject just enough variety into it – perhaps dispensing with it altogether for a well-chosen note or two – to hold the ear. After a while McDuffie’s manner begins to sound rather like whipped cream with everything, making it an effort to concentrate. It’s hard not to be caught up by McDuffie’s virtuosity in the finale, though give him a sustained note of any length and there’s the whipped cream again.
Pretty much the same is true for the Bruch, though the measured intensity of the central Adagio is quite moving. For a performance of the Bruch with all McDuffie’s strengths and much more besides, however, listen to Cho-Liang Lin (Sony); while that Znaider Mendelssohn really does stand up well to repeated hearings. Stephen Johnson