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Dvorak, Szymanowski: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher, Janowski

Dvorak, Szymanowski: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher, Janowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 353

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Dvorak: Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53, Romance in F minor Op. 11, Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 35

Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - October 4, 2009

The Queen is dead, long live the Queen!

For her first disc for SACD, Arabella Steinbacher tackles two very different concertos and supplements these with the popular (on disc at least) Romance by Dvorak. Steinbacher is heralded by Pentatone as their replacement for Julia Fischer and on the evidence here, Miss Fischer won't be missed by too many SACD fans.

The recording of the Szymanowski is simply sensational; the orchestral timbres are more refined than in The Pearls of Polish Music - Szymanowski 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. 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.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Graham Williams - November 3, 2009

Arabella Steinbacher’s debut recording for the PentaTone label is a most auspicious one.

Although only twenty-eight years old she has already proved herself to be a fully mature artist with wide ranging musical sensibilities, as witnessed by the programmes of her concerts around the world and her recordings of composers as disparate as Beethoven, Berg, Milhaud, Shostakovich and Sibelius. The coupling of the two very different concertos on this SACD further illustrates her versatility and eclectic tastes.

Her performance of the Szymanowski’s 1st Violin Concerto is exquisitely refined with a rapt inward quality that often gives the impression that she is playing just for her own pleasure rather than for any audience. The formidable challenges of the piece present no difficulty for her either technically or artistically. Steinbacher’s luminous playing is matched by the keenly focused accompaniment from the Berlin RSO under their director Marek Janowski and by a recording that captures every detail of Szymanowski’s iridescent orchestration and also accommodates the huge orchestral climaxes without a trace of congestion. The engineers have also managed to achieve a well nigh perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. Comparisons with the only other SACD of this work currently available The Pearls of Polish Music - Szymanowski are largely irrelevant as the couplings are so completely different, but if a choice, based purely on the violin concerto, is to be made, then this PentaTone version is the one to go for.

After the intoxicating perfume of the Szymanowski, we are calmed by a lovely unaffected performance of Dvorak’s Romance in F minor. Arabella Steinbacher’s pure cantabile playing and rich tone is complemented by Janowski’s reading of Dvorak’s ‘Andante con moto’ marking that presents the music at a flowing speed yet still retains its simple charm.

Arabella Steinbacher seems to be just as at home with the soaring melodies and dancing rhythms of Dvorak’s substantial violin concerto. She pours out an unending stream of golden tone in the lyrical sections of the first two movements, (which are linked without a break) and throughout one is aware of an engaging rapport between her and the excellent wind soloists of the orchestra. The rondo finale, based on a ‘furiant’, a Czech folk-dance familiar from those Dvorak used in his Slavonic Dances, allows Arabella Steinbacher to display her virtuosity to the full. Once again the support of Janowski and the Berlin RSO is exemplary.

This is undoubtedly one of the finest SACDs to be released from a label that consistently produces outstanding recordings and I have no hesitation in giving it a top recommendation.

Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Mark Novak - November 18, 2009

Pentatone seems to not have lost a step in the star-violinist sweepstakes with the loss of Julia Fischer to Decca. Arabella Steinbacher, on the evidence of this recording, capably fills that void with this auspicious SACD debut coupling two second-rank violin concertos along with the very likeable Dvorak Romance in F minor as a palate refresher between the two main courses.

The Dvorak concerto was the first orchestral concerto I encountered on records nearly thirty years ago as I was cutting my teeth on classical music. I had recently become enamored with Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony as my classical jumping-off point and so when I saw the Dvorak violin concerto in the record bin (yes, the good ole LP days way before optical media) I snatched it up. The performers were Salvatore Accardo with Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips and if I recall properly the coupling was the Romance. As I grew in my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the classical music art form over the years, I have been able to place this Dvorak opus (along with his piano concerto) in its appropriate place in the repertoire as a second-rank work though with plenty of melodic appeal. Arabella Steinbacher’s performance is wonderfully precise and lucid with lots of elan. Her playing oozes with passion and excitement. Marek Janowski and the RSO Berlin are perfectly fine accompanists throughout. I was surprised to find that I had no other recordings of this in my collection (must have sold a few over the years) so I cannot provide any comparisons. However, the present performance and recording are exceptionally good and highly recommended.

The Szymanowski first concerto is a much more rhapsodic and tonally chromatic work that is very different in style and sound from the Dvorak. It makes for a very odd coupling – I would have much preferred something like one of Bruch’s or Raff’s lesser-known concertos which would have made a more apt companion. It’s a single movement work though Pentatone provides several tracks (including one for the cadenza). The booklet note quotes Szymanowski writing to his violinist buddy Pawel Kochanski on the premiere performance of the concerto: “The sound is so magical that the people here seemed frozen to the spot.” I think the composer might have confused “magical” with “impenetrable” and the people were frozen out of confusion over what they just heard. You won’t remember a single melody from this work – I gar–on-tee it (as the Cajun chef used to say).

Steinbacher’s performance of the Szymanowski is also very fine. In comparison with Lydia Mordkovich on Chandos RBCD, I think Mordkovich wrings more emotion out of the music and the orchestral accompaniment from Vassily Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic is extremely fine. As such, I give the performance edge to the Chandos. Sonically, the Chandos has the usual resonant hall sound which works well for this florid piece. The Pentatone sound is closer with more detail. Pick your poison.

Recommended mainly for the Dvorak works.

Copyright © 2009 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

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