Mendelssohn, Bruch: Violin Concertos - Midori
Sony Classical SS 87740
Stereo/Multichannel Single Layer
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, Bruch: Violin Concerto
Mariss Jansons (conductor)
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Mendelssohn Concerto Recorded live at the Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany, January 11-13, 2003. Bruch Concerto Recorded Live at the Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany, June 18-19, 2002
Producer: Steven Epstein
Recording Engineer: Richard King
SACD Authoring Engineer: Robert Wolff
Technical Supervisor: Andrew Granger
Technician: Tim Wood
DSD Engineers: Tom Lucker, Petra Smits
Editing Engineer: Robert Wolff
A&R Managers: Alison Riach, Susanne Schmidt
Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 27, 2017
I don’t think I’m the only one with more than one single Bruch Violin Concerto (No. 1) in my library. Disregarding the ones in RBCD I actually have five. Why? This concerto is so beautiful that one is easily tempted to buy a new one whenever enthusiastically advertised, reviewed, or for whatever other excuse. But in doing so, one sometimes forget about the older recordings stacked on the shelf. At least, so did I. Listening the other day to the oldest in Hi-res: Midori / Jansons / Berlin Philharmonic, I was so pleasantly surprised or, in plain terms: baffled, that I wanted to find out if she really could stand the comparison with the other, newer ones.
The lineup was as follows:
1. Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Violin Concerto No. 1 - Braunstein
2. Bruch, Chausson, Korngold: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher
3. Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 - Vadim Gluzman/Andrew Litton
4. Max Bruch: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 - Janicke/Stenz
5. Mendelssohn, Bruch: Violin Concertos - Midori
Let me say straight away that for me there is none with the best score on all counts. That is, in terms of sound quality, musical content, technical skill, emotion and ‘true to Bruch’s markings’. Any choice is, therefore, open to some degree of ambiguity. The ones that go for sound will most probably have another preference than the ones who take in the first place the musical value at heart. And there, too, we can distinguish between purists and those who allow for interpretative leeway.
In his review of Braunstein Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Violin Concerto No. 1 - Braunstein John Broggio looked at other recordings, too, including Midori, saying that she “frequently pays scant regard to Bruch's markings”. Being a respectable fiddler himself, I cannot but admit that technically Broggio is right. However, I’m of the sort that listens to what I hear without paying too much attention to markings. I’m a proponent of interpretive freedom within reasonable limits, as it has its unmistakable values as well. In my world Bruch is probably the most ‘romantic’ of all the composers of the romantic era. This is particularly true for the second movement, which I have taken as the focal point of comparison. I find a casual weep acceptable. As long as drama doesn’t whine it‘s fine.
Listening to the account of Steinbacher / Foster, I couldn’t help feeling that she, indeed, crosses the emotional line to the wrong side. She starts the middle movement with a sauce of melodramatic vibrato resulting in unsteady bowing and a feeble tone that, in fact, fails to arouse emotion. It’s no more than sentimental. Jannicke, on the other hand, whose adagio, although adequately played, remains too much at the surface, robs it much of its affecting character most listeners will be yearning for. His violin sounds hard and at times too uncompromisingly straightforward. Both fare much better in the outer movements. In terms of sound, Jannicke /Stenz remain at an acceptable, though nowhere really pleasing level, whereas Pentatone’s recording of Steinbacher / Foster is first rate and in fact the best of all five. For this reason she will certainly be high on the list of all those for whom sound quality is of overriding importance.
With Gluzman (BIS), Braunstein (Tudor) and Midori (Sony Classical), we enter in a different universe. Gluzman is from beginning to end in firm command. Looking at the concerto in its entirety, his glitz & glitter does rightly draw major attention, and in the second movement he – and I quote here the following of John Miller’s excellent review of this release: “conspicuously keeps the flow going, refraining from wallowing in sentimentality or dragging with excessive rubato which becalms some performances”. True, but in contrast to Midori, Gluzman creates emotion by a continued use of vibrato. Midori lets her violin sing with as little as possible. Matter of taste? I prefer Midori’s.
Braunstein turns out to be the best ‘homme du métier’, the best craftsman, scrupulously observing, as John Broggio suggests, all the composers markings, displaying a thorough sense of understanding of Bruch’s intentions. His mixture of emotion and audacity is remarkable and the orchestral support, with maybe some small slip ups, is commensurate with the standard of his playing. Having to choose between Gluzman and Braunstein I would take both. The more so, because the B-side of each offers different and complementary works: Bruch’s String Quintet in A minor, Op posth. not otherwise available in Hi-res (Gluzman) and a fine reading of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (Braunstein).
So, where does Midori stand? In her reading I was immediately caught by the intelligent way she carries forward the slow movement (with 9:48 the longest of all), artistically, as well as emotionally and technically. Seldom does one hear a violin playing so naturally, with hardly any use of vibrato, shaping and building up emotion to the point of weeping without shedding dramatic tears, while at the same time remaining unwaveringly in command. Greatly helped, it must be said, by Mariss Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic in peerless form.
But that’s not all. This being taken from a live performance, there is another phenomenon which became apparent during my listening tests. Unlike a studio job, live recording can capture a kind of mutually involving tenseness between audience and musicians, adding inspiring magic turning a good performances into an outstanding and compelling experience. This must have happened here.
For completeness sake: In the outer movements Midori totally captures the spirit with her phenomenal musical passion and technical skills, superbly supported by Jansons and the members of an excitingly playing Berlin Philharmonic. (Expect exuberant applause at the end).
Although the Sony engineers have done a great job, the recorded quality is not the same as Pentatone’s. The pairing with Mendelssohn is a logical one, but not unmissable. There are many other excellent recordings available to choose from. Finally, it only has a single multi-channel Super Audio layer, unsuitable for RBCD play-back in your car (for instance). But what remains is good enough for me.
Copyright © 2017 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net