Violin Concertos Hybrid SACD, SACD
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This Pentatone release is an out and out revelation. The playing of Ms. Steinbacher is out of this world. The recording quality is second to none. There is exceptional blending of soloist and orchestra and not a second of unsatisfying playing by either to be heard. The dynamic range is spectacular and this is the finest Szymanowski I have heard. I have played this disc daily for the last two weeks and have been thrilled each time I hear it. The Dvorak concerto is given new life, and the sound of her Stradivarius is marvellous. This is a disc that belongs in every collection. While the CD layer is excellent, the DSD layer is exemplary in every way possible. Not to be missed. --Hifi+ Magazine
The recording of the Szymanowski is simply sensational; the orchestral timbres are more refined than in The Pearls of Polish Music Szymanowski (BeArTon) which pays great dividends in their extraordinary passages without violin - few can have written for such contrasting ranges of texture in such a short space of time. Steinbacher herself simply soars gracefully above it all with a unobtrusive virtuosity, as if singing her heart out and does so without any sense of forcing herself which is sometimes noticeable in The Pearls of Polish Music Szymanowski (BeArTon). A quite extraordinary reading that makes it hard to imagine the work being performed any other way. The Romance by Dvorak seperates the two concertos and is given a most touching reading that simply presents the music as it is - no histrionics or mere note reading, just an assured touch of musicality. In the Dvorak concerto, Steinbacher is appropriately more outwardly virtuosic and for once, thanks to superb balancing of Janowski and the recording, one relishes the interplay (particularly) of the woodwind and her solo lines. Tempo choices are not extreme in either way for each of the three movements, so all the music is allowed (as in all good Dvorak performances) to speak easily without a sense of dragging or being rushed. A fine reading of this relatively little heard and recorded work, one that does much to give it a better reputation in this listeners mind than other commentators have granted it in the past. All in all, this is a stunning debut from Steinbacher, showing a really musical understanding of two very different scores and also an excellent partnership with Janowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; hopefully Steinbacker and Janowski will work together again for there is real chemistry on display here. As for comparisons in style to Fischer, Steinbacher is her equal on this evidence and quite possibly better in that her vibrato is less steely and so her sound is more relaxed when desired, making for a more varied timbre. The sound from Pentatone (in a co-production with Deutschlandradio Kultur) is extraordinary as befits the Szymanowski. Rarely does a violin concerto sound so naturally balanced vis a vis soloist and orchestra yet retain so much of the myriad of sounds that Szymanowski throws at them. The dynamic range is spectacular as well and arguably sets new standards for the label. Highly recommended in every way possible. Performance 5 stars / Sonics 5 Stars --http://www.sa-cd.net/showreviews/6121#6714
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Then PentaTone announced the signing on of Arabella Steinbacher, not said, but ostensibly to replace Julia Fischer. In her notes for the PentaTone "Russian Concertos" disc, Julia wrote that she fell in love with the Khachaturian violin concerto when she was 12 and heard the then 15 yr old Arabella Steinbacher playing it in a concert in Munich. Julia began violin studies with Helga Thelen at age 3 and at age 4 began lessons with Lydia Dubrowskaya. At age 9 she was admitted to the Munich Conservatory. Only one other has ever been admitted at that tender age to conservatory studies with Ana Chumachenko - Arabella Steinbacher, who also began with Helga Thelen at age 3!
At the Verbier Music Festival in Switzerland this past summer, Chumchenko was giving master classes. We had just been treated to a performance of Beethoven's Sonata #8 and afterwards I was waiting for a bus outside and chatting with a young German woman who also had attended the masterclass. When I told her that I had heard Arabella play that sonata in March at Middlebury College VT, and then 5 weeks later heard Julia play it in Union College in Schenectady, she was all lit up with questions: Could you tell that they had the same teacher? Could you tell that they were from the same school of violin playing?
Last November my wife and I flew from Albany NY to Cincinnati OH to hear Julia play the Dvorak concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony because we realized there would never be a Julia Fischer PentaTone recording of it and no Decca CD will ever come close to mending the loss.
Julia is said to particularly favor the Dvorak because her mother is from Czechoslovakia. To quote the newspaper review published the next day, she gave an "uncommonly beautiful" rendition of the concerto. We thought so too!
What of Steinbacher's recording? Well, quoting the young woman from the Verbier Festival, "Can you tell that they come from the same school of violin playing?"
I was hesitant then to provide a yes-no answer. I said both young artists are individuals. One was not a carbon copy of the other, but that what they seem to have in common is an ability really get the music across - to communicate with the audience in a way to totally involve the listener 100% of the time.
Now I see more similarities!
Like Fischer, Steinbacher invests the music with absolute commitment. Like Fischer, Steinbacher is an essentially lyrical player with a fine intellectual grasp of what she is playing. But on evidence of this recording, Steinbacher gives us a warmer even more lyrical performance, never sacrificing drama! She phrases broadly but applies microdynamics within a phrase, creating an exceptionally singing interpretation that lacks nothing when intense passionate declamations are called for. Steinbacher makes the Dvorak actually seem even greater than I had imagined.
Of the impressionistic sounding Symanowski, I can say that both PentaTone and Steinbacher do it a justice it has never previously received in a recording. The dense orchestration is lucidly reproduced with never a hint of congestion and the violin rides in its highest registers over the loudest passages creating an ethereal wonder world of sound.
This, really, is strongly recommended