CD+DVD Reviews

Ivry Gitlis, violin = Violin Concertos of SIBELIUS, BRAHMS; PAGANINI; HINDEMITH; LEIBOWITZ- var. performers – Doremi (2 CDs + DVD)

A legendary superstar among violinists, a prodigy whose distinctive tone and blazing energy immediately identify his personal style.

Published on May 23, 2011

Ivry Gitlis, violin = Violin Concertos of SIBELIUS, BRAHMS; PAGANINI; HINDEMITH; LEIBOWITZ- var. performers – Doremi (2 CDs + DVD)

Ivry Gitlis, violin = SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; BRAHMS: Double Concerto in A Major, Op. 102; PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 7; HINDEMITH: Violin Concerto; LEIBOWITZ: Violin Concerto + DVD of Miscellaneous Performances and Excerpts, 1965-1992 – Ivry Gitlis /Maurice Gendron, cello/New York Philharmonic/George Szell/ French National Orchestra/Michel Tabachnik (Brahms)/Stuttgart Radio Symphony/ Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Paganini)/Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/ Sixten Ehrling (Hindemith)/Hannover Radio Symphony/ Rene Leibowitz

Doremi DHR 7981-3 (2 CDs) 56:18; 72:55 + DVD 63:00 [Distr. By Allegro] ****:

Ivry Gitlis (b. 1922) remains a legendary superstar among violinists, a prodigy who studied with Flesch, Enesco, Thibaud, and Pashkus, and whose distinctive tone and blazing energy immediately identify his personal style. The Doremi CD collection surveys concerts from 1955-1972, while the DVD in both color and black and white offers a wider range of repertoire indicative of Gitlis’ catholic tastes in music. Composers Maderna and Xenakis have written works specifically celebrating the peerless artistry of Gitlis.

The immediacy of Gitlis’ driven raspy approach makes its impact from Carnegie Hall (18 December 1955) in the Sibelius Concerto with Szell and the New York Philharmonic, a collaboration of fiercely elemental power and conviction–rarely will you hear the Adagio di molto played with so ardently in Kandinsky colors. Gitlis virtually swallows up any technical difficulties in the course of long inflected lines that strike a deep response from his unique bowing and application of vibrato. It is not often a soloist makes Szell “work,” but the conductor has his hands full to meet the demonic figures Gitlis evokes from the last movement. This gypsy effect aligns Gitlis more with Huberman than with the so-called “Classical” school of smoothly elegant violinists. Collectors no less interested in George Szell will glean a rare and potent addition to his scanty Sibelius catalogue. The hint of the savage finds its way into the Tchaikovsky finale–with cuts–from the DVD with Leopold Hagar (18 February 1985) as well, a colossal rendition that makes us crave the whole concerto. No less “demonized” is the Gitlis approach to Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (18 February 1985) again with Hagar, an interpretation that eschews politeness–and the beat–at every turn.

The Brahms Double Concerto (8 December 1970) with Gendron and the French National Orchestra seems confining to the likes of Gitlis’ temperament, which pushes the stylistic envelope even while trying to blend in with Gendron’s resonant periods. Somehow, perhaps via Tabachnik’s careful ministrations, the whole congeals into a Brahms performance of lyrical beauty, if not raw power. The gypsy effect proves apt for the last movement, in spite of an occasional missed note. The B Minor Paganini Concerto with Skrowaczewski (13 June 1972) from Stuttgart provides a tailor-made vehicle for Gitlis, who has consistently reaped accolades that call him that demon violinist’s reincarnation. Here, Gitlis sheds the cloak of heaviness and reveals a light, even gossamer sense of inflection that delights in digital challenges and the long fluent line. Skrowaczewski’s animated contribution deserves mention as well, a buoyant romp that sings, soars, and sails as required. Obviously, we all await the La Campanella movement so that we can awe at the wickedly seamless realization of the dance, a vivid, portamento-laden whirlwind that would make Liszt–had he lived to hear it–rewrite his own keyboard response!

The Hindemith Violin Concerto–commissioned by Willem Mengelberg in 1939–finds a perfect exponent in Gitlis, who performs (19 May 1966) with the reliable Sixten Ehrling and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Angular and  declamatory, the piece projects a brazen beauty in which Fuchs and Oistrakh may have found more lyricism, but Gitlis, too, weaves a delicate fabric between the more stentorian periods. The tonal center of the work gravitates enharmonically between C-sharp and D-flat, the emotional tenor alternating between brassy punctuations and deft humor. One could argue that the mercurial Langsam movement has its dreamy moments. The lively, occasionally tempestuous, last movement includes a demanding solo cadenza for Gitlis, rife with multiple stops, registration shifts, bariolage effects and extended trills.

The 1958 Violin Concerto, Op. 50 of Rene Leibowitz (1913-1972) had its world premier in the performance by Gitlis and the composer (20 January 1961).  An advocate for Schoenberg and serialism, Leibowitz incorporates into his style French color and German expressionism. A huge crash sets off this one-movement, twenty-minute work. The elastic riffs in the winds and brass seem to point to Alban Berg as a possible source of inspiration. The music becomes eerie and angst laden, with rhythmic figures acting as the “glue” for which melody would ordinarily serve to unite the piece in our minds. The slow episode at six minutes provides a melancholy moody Webern-like Adagio, the introspection broken down into small gestures of two bars or four, if Leibowitz feels expansive. A cadenza ensues at 11:40, recasting some of the brief melodic fragments and rhythmic gestures in arco and pizzicato, double and triple stops. The strings and tympani return to assist Gitlis into the last section, a moody and deep-brassy staccato dance with percussive cadences, as well as some harmonics from Gitlis. The dance becomes a bit more fevered and skittish, the tympani now inflamed, and Gitlis able to indulge in some “gypsy” effects. Virtuosic this concerto certainly is, but its capacity to compel repeat hearings remains open to debate.

The DVD selections display Gitlis in a series of roles, from virtuoso firebrand to intensely devoted chamber music practitioner, working with both Georges Pludermacher and Bruno Rigutto at various venues in the Franck Sonata or with luminary Michel Legrand in the last movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (1974). The works by Paganini, Ravel, Saint-Saens, Massenet, and Sarasate proffer the torch of unrepentant bravura. Several of the videos–likely from French television archives–suffer faded visuals, but the Berg Concerto with Hans Vonk (1992) and the solo Bartok Sonata (1974) more than adequately testify to Gitlis’ natural affection for modern masterpieces in which this wizard of the violin struts a supreme talent.

– Gary Lemco

 




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