Tchaikovsky/Shostakovich: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky/Shostakovich
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor
PERFORMER: Midori (violin); Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: SK 68338
Midori isn’t the first student of veteran pedagogue Dorothy DeLay to tackle Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. DeLay’s Juilliard clones sound alarmingly similar, and few cast any novel insights on this warhorse of a concerto. Hear just a bar or two played by Heifetz, Elman, Huberman or Oistrakh, and you’ll realise that Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick’s infamous jibe about music which ‘stinks in the ear’ were never deserved. These veteran violinists all had nobler affinities with this concerto, but sadly none made a decent modern recording of it.

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The best performance with the benefit of state-of-the-art engineering doesn’t in fact come from the DeLay/ Juilliard stable. Maxim Vengerov’s dazzlingly authoritative 1995 Teldec performance proves that the illustrious Russian violin tradition still flourishes. Vengerov plays with astounding panache, and a stronger rhythmic grip than the occasionally wayward Midori, who teases out phrase endings with a vulgarity that does her little credit. Vengerov also delivers the finale complete, eschewing cuts made by Tchaikovsky’s intended dedicatee Leopold Auer. This colossal account never ceases to astonish, while Midori succeeds only in trotting out the regular violinistic clichés. Her reading of the A minor Shostakovich Concerto also disappoints beside Vengerov’s deeper-hewn, mercurial performance. Vengerov’s Tchaikovsky is coupled with his account of Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, simply the best post-Heifetz version available. Teldec also obtains better sound than Sony from Berlin’s sometimes unpredictable Philharmonie. Michael Jameson