Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Academic Sym. of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society/ Woldemar Nelson (Beethoven)/ The USSR State Sym. Orch./ Yuri Temirkanov – Melodiya

Violin virtuoso Gidon Kremer returns from the 1970s in Moscow-based performances of noble splendor and visceral power.

Published on January 21, 2013

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Academic Sym. of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society/ Woldemar Nelson (Beethoven)/ The USSR State Sym. Orch./ Yuri Temirkanov – Melodiya

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Academic Sym. of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society/ Woldemar Nelson (Beethoven)/ The USSR State Sym. Orch./ Yuri Temirkanov – Melodiya MEL CD 10 02022, 74:24 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer (b. 1947) once received from conductor Herbert von Karajan the startling plaudit as “the greatest violinist in the world.”  Now sixty-five, Kremer would likely debate that status himself, given he had studied with another stellar artist, David Oistrakh, and served as the host of many fine fellow artists via his own Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival, established in 1981. The Beethoven Violin Concerto here recorded in 1974 bespeaks a technically facile performer, quite intent on the long line and striving for a “heroic” intimacy. Conductor Nelson, however, quite commands a broad canvas when he wants one, as in the mighty tutti prior to the recapitulation in the first movement. Rather than proffer a classically chiseled concerto intent on architecture, Kremer and Nelson invest an affecting romanticism into their phrasing, reminiscent perhaps of the famed EMI inscription by his teacher Oistrakh with Andre Cluytens.  The blazing rendition of the Kreisler cadenza exudes every confidence, the facility of registration shifts and multiple stops bordering more on Paganini than any “classical” model.

The G Major Larghetto movement quite sails on ethereal vapors. The phrasing becomes a series of loving caresses between the violin solo and the various woodwind principals over a muted, plucked bass. Late in the movement, the tone becomes significantly more aggressive without any loss of cantabile. Much like mentor Oistrakh and another brilliant Russian fiddler, Milstein, Kremer dictates the pace and scale of the performance. A brief cadenza segues directly into the Rondo, here realized with a crisp serenity of spirit.  Even in the face of militant and hunting motifs, the music retains an elastic grace and – perhaps paradoxically contrary to the freer first movement -  carefully etched articulation that adds “correctness” to the various “athletic” epithets we can attribute to this broad, often sweeping rendition.

The 1905 Sibelius Violin Concerto (rec. 1970) with the flamboyant conductor Yuri Temirkinov (b. 1938) allows Kremer to advance the more febrile aspect of his musical persona, rich and throaty in tone, acerbic in visceral attacks, and intensely focused on the individual phrase. Temirkinov himself favors an exuberantly colored sound – he was noted during his rehearsals with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s for his constant criticism of their compressed phrasing with an admonishing, “Snip, snip” – so that the Sibelius interjections of brass and thunder receive their full due. The whiplash cadenza moves with startling agility and raw power, the deep basses and winds then accelerating the progression to the recapitulation with fevered rasps of sound. The huge tutti and frenzied coda catapult us deep into Sibelius’ symphonic world, close to the Northern mysteries of his Sixth Symphony. Alternate dream and turbulence mark the central Adagio di molto, with Kremer’s drawing us into this special interior world invested with midnight sun. The passion of the collaboration easily suggests what having Evgeny Mravinsky at the helm of the orchestral part might have sounded like. Confirming our expectations, the wild polonaise that serves for the Rondo movement delivers a striking series of gypsy colors, Kremer’s instrument often ascending into stellar or infernal reaches, a blessed angel or accursed banshee. With the final, windy chords from the impassioned principals, an otherwise silent audience bursts into spontaneous applause.

The sonics from Melodiya prove unexpectedly pert and focused, with none of the distant, tubby shadows that usually plague Soviet-era Melodiya productions.

—Gary Lemco




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