Vadim Gluzman / Estonian National Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi SERGEI PROKOFIEV Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 - Sonata For Solo Violin

A quite extraordinarily good disc. The performances are exemplary in every respect and the recordings are absolutely beautiful too. I had to go back and revisit this issue after a few days to check that it really was as good as I thought - it is!
Vadim Gluzman takes a lyrical view of these pieces compared to the likes of Heifetz in the 2nd Concerto, but it is just as valid as any other. There is plenty of evidence from the time of the first performances that both concerti were viewed as lyrical as much as dramatic. The liner notes mention Oistrakh being attracted to the cantabile themes in the 1st Concerto, and of audience members at the US premiere being moved to tears by the slow movement of No.2. All this emotional reaction is quite understandable; these are among the most beautiful of 20th Century violin concertos and have attracted the attention of all the top virtuosi. Listeners to this disc who own other performances may notice that the orchestra is a little recessed, so that details do not tell as they sometimes do. However, in a concert performance this is often the case, unless one is very close to the platform, and this seems to be the view taken by the engineers who give us a centre-of-the-front-stalls perspective. The recording venue appears to be a classic shoe box hall and certainly it endows this recording with a spacious but clean and clear acoustic space. There is no instrumental spotlighting in the final mix so, whilst Prokofiev's delicate use of the percussion is there, it never jumps out at the listener. The down side is that the orchestra does not get much opportunity to show off its skills. During the moments where the violin stops - and there are not many of these - it is evident that Neeme Järvi and the Estonian NSO are very much at one with the soloist. The liner notes by Horst Scholz are thorough and well written. I do hope the violinist was looking where he was going when the unappealing cover photo was taken: it looks like the sort of place where his violin might go missing.
In the lovely Sonata for solo violin, Gluzman has our undivided attention. He is recorded, this time, in Bremen's small recording hall, which appears to be a rather lovely wood-lined space. It is a nice acoustic and Gluzman seems to be placed at a moderate distance in front of the listener. The piece was written for violins in unison and was intended as a teaching vehicle. In common with other such works by great composers (Bartók's Mikrokosmos for instance) it is far more than that and Gluzman gives a committed performance. Incidentally there is another splendid SACD of this piece on the erratically available Caro Mitis label, played by Mikhail Tsinman. (Dave Billinge)

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