SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor; BEETHOVEN: Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1; Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 – Philippe Quint, v./ Orquesta Sinfónica de Mineria/ Carlos Miguel Prieto – Avanticlassic (SACD + DVD)

Excellent Bruch and Beethoven in fine SACD sound. For me, the Mendelssohn is not quite in the same league, but it’s a novel approach that will have its adherents.

Published on October 10, 2012

BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; BEETHOVEN: Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40; Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in F Major, Op. 50 – Philippe Quint, v./ Orquesta Sinfónica de Mineria/ Carlos Miguel Prieto – Avanticlassic 5414706 10362 [Distr. by Allegro], multichannel SACD + DVD (PCM stereo), SACD: 66:23 ****:

A generous program, indeed. Mostly, you get two big concerti only on a single CD, but Philippe Quint and Avanticlassic graciously throw in the two Beethoven romances as well. With 229 recordings of the Mendelssohn concerto listed at Arkivmusic.com, the Mendelssohn and Bruch are bound to be paired on more than a few. A cursory look-see turned up recordings by Mutter, Chung, Kennedy, McDuffie, Midori, Jansen, Vengerov, Ricci (along with short works by Saint-Saëns), and of course Perlman, most of these by no means new. So this SACD recording has a leg up on the competition and appears to be one of the only such pairings (if not the only pairing) in hi-res surround sound.

Of course, these are two of the most beloved concerti in the repertoire—except to Max Bruch, who bitterly resented the popularity of his concerto at the expense of his other works—so the stakes are high. I can report that for the most part Philippe Quint and Mexican conductor and violinist Carlos Prieto rise to the occasion and give us very fine renditions of the Bruch and Beethoven. If the Mendelssohn isn’t on quite the same plane for me, well, that may be a matter of personal prejudice based on the thousand or so performances of the concerto that I’ve heard over the years. Along with the Opus 80 String Quartet of Mendelssohn’s last year, the Violin Concerto, penned in 1844 and 1845, is cited as evidence of a new depth of emotion and maturity of expression in the composer’s later works. Like the quartet, the concerto starts in medias res, as it were, with a foreboding and fiery entrance by the violin and orchestra together—no orchestral introduction and no lyrical respite until the serene but melancholy second theme.

Despite a tenderly evocative slow movement, I find Quint and Prieto a bit too intense, even in the buoyant finale, where we hear again the Mendelssohn of the fleet scherzos and capriccios of his earlier career. The effect is brilliant but maybe a trifle unsettling; this is playing in the Heifetz tradition rather than the Grumiaux tradition. Then again, I’m sure some listeners will find that the musicians inject new life into this venerable warhorse, and I can see their point. So let me just say that of its kind, this interpretation is first-rate, and while I may not return to it as often as I will to others in my collection, I will return for the comparative novelty of the interpretation.

As I say, Quint’s suave beguiling Beethoven and deeply emotive Bruch leave just about nothing to be desired. Among recent rival recordings I’ve heard, while I prefer rising-star James Ehnes’s Mendelssohn on Onyx, I find Quint’s Bruch more compelling than Ehnes’s fine account on CBC. And the SACD sound accorded Quint outclasses both handily. For an SACD rival to Quint’s Bruch, I’d turn to Vladim Gluzman’s superlative version on Bis. It enjoys even finer sonics—more expansive, with the violin and orchestra captured in a more natural perspective. (Quint is too forwardly placed.) The program may decide, however: Gluzman’s performance is paired with Bruch’s lovely, late (1918) String Quintet in A Minor instead of more concerted music.

If you’re wondering about the Orquesta Sinfónica de Mineria, it is sponsored by the Music Academy of the Mining Palace, “established in 1978 by a group of music-loving engineers, alumni of the Engineering Faculty at the National and Autonomous University of Mexico.” Now, if this seems an unlikely sponsorship for an orchestra of stature, I think I can agree that the orchestra is “a professional body of the highest quality.” There is nothing provincial about its performances here; we have excellent impassioned playing throughout captured in sound, despite the spotlighting of the soloist, that is full-bodied and detailed.

As to the bonus DVD, it failed to play on my DVD player. It did play on my Oppo Blu-ray disc player, but I could hear only the music and Philippe Quint’s commentary on it; my TV screen was black throughout. You may have more luck than I did, but in any event you won’t be let down by the fine performances and sonics on the SACD.  [I didn’t look at it first; perhaps it was a PAL disc. There’s still much confusion about the two non-compatible formats...Ed.]

—Lee Passarella




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