Top positive review
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A disc of distinction offering warmly Romantic readings of both concertos
on 12 January 2014
This disc, recorded in 2012, offers the same coupling as that made some years earlier by Tasmin Little. Otherwise this is a relatively rare coupling but one that is very attractive.
The Dvorak concerto has always been second choice in the trilogy of Dvorák's concertos with the cello concerto being a firm favourite and with the piano concerto being the least popular. The two string concertos benefit considerably by Dvorak's own expertise as an experienced string player. The violin concerto was written at a time when the composer was under the considerable influence of Brahms whom he greatly admired. He had yet to fully formulate his own distinctive style of composition incorporating the Slavonic dance and folk elements that are so integral to his later works. Nevertheless the early signs are still there and can easily be heard in the final movement especially but also in the pointed rhythms of the first movement. As a reference point in these respects, the early 1960's recording by Josef Suk with the Czech P.O. conducted by Karel Ancerl, is by far the most obviously Slavonic in feel. However, that recording even in its new 24 bit remastering, cannot begin to compare with this latest offering by Julia Fischer.
Julia Fischer, surprisingly for someone with a Czechoslovakian mother, offers a noticeably less Slavonic inflected reading than Isabelle Faust for instance on her recent alternative recording. This may be partly to do with David Zinman's leadership of the orchestra where the Slavonic rhythms, so pointed under Ancerl's conducting with Suk, are smoothed out quite markedly. This less Slavonic inflected approach is also true when comparing the disc with those by both Sarah Chang and Isabelle Faust. The consequence of this is to bring the concerto more firmly into the realm of the central European Romantic tradition of violin concertos. Thus the concerto becomes far more related to the concertos by Bruch and Brahms for instance. This is not a disadvantage, but is a clear change of emphasis. A further linking factor for all three of those concertos may well be the considerable influence of Joseph Joachim, the virtuoso violinist of the time, who was closely consulted with in terms of each concerto's construction as well as with it's technical aspects. He made alterations and significant suggestions about each concerto which were accepted by all three composers before their concertos were finalised.
If one therefore sees the Dvorak concerto as more in the great Romantic concerto tradition of central Europe rather than as an example of Slavonic nationalism, this reading must be considered to be a great success. Julia Fischer has a peerless technique so that all the practical difficulties of the concerto are overcome with apparent ease. The music flows with lyrical intensity and the concerto, seen in this light, takes on a greater depth of Romantic expression and becomes a stronger composition of that period. This is a completely acceptable view as it more clearly fits in with Dvorak's composing style of that time when he was still influenced by Brahms and the Romantic movement rather than his later Slavonic interests.
In terms of the Bruch concerto, Julia Fischer offers a deeply thoughtful and satisfying reading on all counts. This concerto is firmly embedded in the Romantic movement of the time and that is what is delivered in this reading. It is worth noting that Julia Fischer's playing of the slow movements of both concertos is outstanding in its melodic nature which makes the most of her tonal purity. Zinman provides an accompaniment to both concertos with his orchestra that completely matches the overall concepts.
The sound of the opening of the Dvorak seems curiously muted and lacking in treble response. It was sufficient to make me check that the wiring to the speakers was fully engaged. In this respect I can sympathise with other reviewers who have expressed some dissatisfaction with that aspect of the sound. However, I found that my ears quickly adjusted and once the soloist was fully established that awareness disappeared. It is possible that the lack of top string brightness at the very beginning especially is an interpretive decision and part of the smoothing out of textures and rhythms adopted by the conductor on this occasion. It did not destroy the overall pleasure in the disc.
I would suggest that this disc deserves to be considered as one of the best available of these two works. There are other fine performances of both works but not so coupled. Therefore, if this coupling is of interest, this disc is the obvious candidate for purchase. Otherwise I would suggest that at least Lin, Kyung Wha Chung, Heifetz and Faust qualify for further consideration for the Bruch plus Faust or Chang for the Dvorak. All of these discs offer great satisfaction, different couplings and interesting choices for the collector. Julia Fischer's new disc can safely be ranked alongside those.