Brahms: Violin Concerto in D

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LABELS: EMI Great Recordings of the Century
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D
PERFORMER: Itzhak Perlman (violin); Chicago SO/Carlo Maria Giulini
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 66977 2 ADD Reissue (1977)
Giulini and Perlman take a leisurely view of the concerto, and they indulge every moment of potential expression by slowing down. Contrast that with Vengerov and Barenboim, who set off at almost exactly the same pace, but keep the pulse and therefore the tension going: after the opening tutti Vengerov’s first solo entry takes off like a rocket. Where Perlman slows down for the second subject, and gets even slower during it, Vengerov holds it within the prevailing tempo. That’s not to say that he is inexpressive, but he is just as likely to push forward as to hold back, something that Perlman never seems to do. Perhaps it helps that Vengerov and Barenboim were recorded live – certainly Vengerov’s own cadenza has all the excitement of an on-the-spot creation, even if the general shape was pre-conceived. Because Perlman’s first movement has had such a leisurely character, there isn’t sufficient contrast of mood with the second movement. Vengerov captures more of the improvisatory quality of the music, and, as his tempo is faster, he has somewhere to go when Brahms asks him to slow down. And there are all sorts of little details which make his performance continually fascinating: just hear the care with which he approaches and leaves trills. In the finale, Perlman is again sluggish, while Vengerov imparts a real rhythmic lift and gypsy feeling to the music, ably and consistently abetted by Barenboim. This is a modern benchmark for this work, and the sonata is equally fine: muscular and strongly projected. Martin Cotton