Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Size: 241 MB
Violin Concerto In D, Op.35
01. 1. Allegro moderato
02. 2. Canzonetta: Andante – attacca
03. 3. Finale (Allegro vivacissimo)
04. Sérénade mélancolique in B flat minor, Op.26
A riveting account, one of the most original on disc
Since originality is a quality I prize, I was immediately attracted to Gidon Kremer’s only account of the Tchaikovsky concerto. Made in 1980, it was the first digital recording of the work, and there was every reason for DG to give the honor to the young Latvian/Russian virtuoso, then 33, who had swept like wildfire through the musical world. Nor does Kremer disappoint. His reading is unlike anyobody else’s — full of unique bowing, introvrted in the slow movement, never sentimental, austere enough to eschew beautiful sounds. If your ideal of the Tchaikovsky is scintillating virtuosity, seek out Heifetz and Reiner (RCA); for gorgeousness of tone there are any number of rivals (Perlman and Joshua Bell come to mind), and for Russian passion, there’s Oistrakh and Viktoria Mullova (the latter’s account on Philips is a great favorite of mine).
But no one else plays this music from bar to bar as if every note deeply matters, which is Kremer’s great distinction. He never returned to the Tchaikovsky concrto, which implies indifference, but while he’s playing it, one has no hint that this music is hackneyed or routine. Maazel supplies good support, although without real distinction; the Berliners play well, and DG’s very early digital sound holds up surprisingly well.
An impressive feat, but short on passion
This was one of the first digital version (the very first?) of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and remains pretty competitive though perhaps not a first choice. Kremer’s playing is surely polished and technically impressive; the phrasing is wonderful and the tone beautiful. Still, it is unfortunately a little short on charm and expressive depth – Tchaikovsky’s concerto isn’t really the most appropriate vehicle neither for classical restraint nor almost curmudgeonly introspective approaches; it is peripatetic grand drama and passion and heart-on-sleeve through and through and despite Kremer’s sweetness of tone he never manages to scale the heights or plunge the emotional abysses of the music.
That said, the technical wizardry is stunning, and the tense energy of the finale in particular is very appealing; neither can it be denied that he receives magnificent support from the Berlin Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel. The sound quality is actually very good – clear and detailed – and only to a limited degree beset by the technical problems that often characterized the first digital recordings (which made the music sound very artificially bright and cold). An impressive and overall warmer performance of the Serenade melancolique rounds off a disc that is, in the final verdict, very commendable but hardly a first choice; recommended as an alternative recording.
I had this version on tape years ago and have missed it meanwhile. Other versions are fine–I have Joshua Bell’s and Sarah Chang’s–but Kremer’s poetry, combined with his incomparably exhilarating last movement, make this the one I most treasure. The CD engineering is excellent, as is Maazel’s orchestra.