Tchaikovsky, Conus

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Conus,Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: David Garrett (violin); Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 471 428-2
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is treated so often as a display piece – a vehicle for technical showing-off or emotional exhibitionism – that it’s almost a shock to hear it played with such poetic subtlety. Conductor Mikhail Pletnev and his orchestra deserve a part of the credit. There’s power and brilliance when needed, but Pletnev is also a marvellously discreet accompanist, highlighting a tiny phrase here, a touch of colour there, but never setting himself up in competition to Garrett. As for Garrett himself – well, there’s plenty to admire technically, but it’s refreshing to hear a performance that charms the listener into the music rather than grabbing him or her by the lapels. Compared with Garrett, the fiery, scintillating Vengerov tends to sound simply crude – the rubato just too indulgent, the expression over-insistent, even when he’s playing quietly. There’s nothing puritan about the Garrett-Pletnev approach; they’re quite capable of stretching phrases out lovingly, as in the finale’s slower episodes, and Garrett’s sweet vibrato is the opposite of clinical. After Garrett’s elegance, tonal refinement and unforced but persuasive conviction, however, Vengerov tends to come across as a brash extrovert with, in the end, much less to tell us about the music. Yet Vengerov fields a more impressive coupling in the Glazunov Violin Concerto. Garrett finds plenty of character and intensity in the Conus, though this time I feel he overuses that exquisite rubato. It becomes rather relentless, especially in the central Adagio. Still, a strong recommendation for the Tchaikovsky – especially for those who think they’ve heard it once or twice too often. Stephen Johnson