Brahms: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77
PERFORMER: Viktoria Mullova (violin)Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 438 998-2 DDD
On the evidence of this recording, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall is a remarkably favourable ambience for Brahms’s orchestration: the sonic image has great depth and clarity, the woodwind beautifully differentiated layer by layer and the basses powerfully resonant. Mullova is in commanding form in this live performance from 1992. Her tone is faultless: it’s a reading of almost contemptuous virtuosity and authority, the other movements full of thrilling bravura and the Adagio cool and beautifully poised. I find, however, a lack of warmth: though it’s certainly interesting to hear this most Romantic of concertos played for its muscular power rather than its lyricism. For a more universal view, however, I would still prefer, say, Mutter and Karajan on DG, despite the older, thinner sound.

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There’s no audience noise whatever till the storm of applause, though something (Abbado’s baton?) goes crack two minutes into the finale. Just occasionally I found Abbado’s first-movement tempi a little stodgy, but the finale is very lively. The cadenza (unmentioned in the liner notes) is Joachim’s. Despite my reservations this must be one of the principal contenders among currently available versions. But is less than 40 minutes on a disc acceptable value these days? Calum MacDonald