Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D; Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor; The Love for Three Oranges Suite

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D; Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor; The Love for Three Oranges Suite
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin)Montreal SO/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: 440 331-2 DDD
It’s striking how much Bach, and the concerto grosso, keep peering through the textures of Mendelssohn’s late work, written for his Leipzig concert-master, Ferdinand David. In this live Chicago performance both Barenboim and Perlman (placed well forward) keep metre under a tight rein, so that the music flows in a controlled manner, if not always effortlessly. The orchestra has its moments (such as the hushed, laid-back horn calls). The bridge passage to the slow movement (shades of Fidelio) is breathtaking.

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The Prokofiev has fewer virtues. The orchestra, though a considerate accompanist, seems muffled and distant. Perlman’s somewhat magisterial approach may edge closer to Oistrakh, but it scarcely makes the nerve-ends tingle. There is an unfortunate tinny edge to the recording, and more than the odd distracting blip. Joshua Bell’s more restrained reading lacks Perlman’s gutsiness or the technical fireworks of Spivakov on RCA, but it makes a more intimate, satisfying journey in both Prokofiev concertos. The Second dates from the period of Romeo and Juliet. Perlman recalls the ballet’s pomp and bustle; Bell is more questioning, more fragile, and altogether more appealing.

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The Montreal players (prone elsewhere to excessive sheen) bring out many instrumental nuances one scarcely even scents on the Erato disc. Dutoit’s sparkling reading of the Love for Three Oranges suite should make your mind up. Roderic Dunnett