Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto – recommended recordings

Gramophone Sat 1st November 2014

One of the most daunting concertos in the violin repertoire, Tchaikovsky's masterpiece has benefitted from some classic interpretations on disc

The Gramophone Choice

Coupled with Brahms (arr Joachim) Hungarian Dances – No 1 in G minor; No 2 in D minor; No 4 in B minor; No 7 in A

Sarah Chang (vn) Jonathan Feldman (pf) London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Colin Davis

EMI 503433-2 (49' · DDD) Buy from Amazon

The range of dynamic truthfulness conveyed in Sarah Chang’s performance, helped by a clear, full, naturally balanced recording, brings not just momentary delight in individual phrases but cumulative gain, in a reading that strongly hangs together. Not only does she play with exceptionally pure tone, avoiding heavy coloration, but her individual artistry doesn’t demand the wayward pulling-about often found in this work. She’s enormously helped by the fresh, bright and dramatic accompaniment of the LSO under Sir Colin Davis. In the outer movements she conveys wit along with power and poetry, and the intonation is immaculate. Brahms’s Hungarian Dances are delectable, marked by the sort of naughty pointing of phrase and rhythm that tickles your musical funny-bone just as Kreisler always did. Here’s a young artist who really does live up to the claims of the publicists.

 

Additional Recommendations

 

Coupled with Piano Concerto No 1

Christian Tetzlaff (vn) Nikolai Lugansky (pf) 

Russian National Orchestra / Kent Nagano

Pentatone PTC5186 022 (68' · DDD/DSD) Buy from Amazon

These are stimulating versions of two favourite concertos, which take a fresh interpretative approach. Nikolai Lugansky’s conception is spacious, with pianist and conductor taking time to relish the music’s puissance. The opening is broad and weighty. Then, although the first subject of the Allegro has a vividly Russian rhythmic character, in both the exposition and recapitulation much is made of the beauty of lyrical secondary material and the Romantic link with Tchaikovsky’sRomeo and Juliet. The exquisitely delicate central Andantino is followed by a scintillating Scherzando. The finale bursts forth with irrepressible dash and virtuosity. When, near the close, the tempo broadens massively to make a hugely positive climax some forward impetus is lost, but Lugansky’s bravura is thrilling.

Tchaikovsky’s friendly opening for his Violin Concerto is shaped by Nagano in a mood of disarming simplicity, and the two main themes are invested with lyrical warmth. Tetzlaff bounces his bow with engaging lightness in the key passage (7'03") that Hanslick described as ‘beating the violin black and blue’, while the cadenza is played with such affectionate detail that it becomes a highlight of the work. Tetzlaff’s playing throughout is polished and secure. 

In both concertos the recording has the orchestra placed naturally within a warm ­concert-hall acoustic. 

 

Coupled with Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op 42 (arr Lascae)

Janine Jansen (vn) Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Daniel Harding

Decca 478 0651DH (53’ · DDD) Buy from Amazon

You can anticipate something individual and special from the way that Janine Jansen insinuates herself into the first subject of the Concerto – shyly confidential at first, building assertiveness with the double-stopped reprise. Everything here is vital, un-hackneyed. And yet Jansen is very much the old-fashioned romantic. Her way withrubato and with dynamic contrasts is unashamedly free. She spins sound like an excellent singer, taking it away subito pianissimo in true bel canto fashion. She does so quite demurely, suggestively, with the second subject of the first movement and again with the second movement canzonetta, which is lovely – and natural.

There’s an intimacy about her playing which sits well with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra; not that the introverted elements of the concerto in any way upstage the extrovert. In many ways it’s the Cossack-dancing finale that sends this version spinning into the orbit of the very best available. The partnership with Daniel Harding could hardly be tighter. No rhetorical slacking of tempo as Jansen responds to the fiery orchestral introduction – she presses forward with a will. The gritty second theme is very much a coarse folksy baritone against hang-dog bassoon, and come the second round of dancing, Harding has the orchestral pizzicatos really kicking up dust.

A smashing performance, then, with only marginal disappointment concerning the recorded sound – crisp and immediate, but of a dry ambience without much atmosphere. The supporting piece – Souvenir d’un lieu cher – gives us the chance to hear the concerto’s original slow movement in a lovely arrangement for violin and strings by the Romanian-Dutch conductor Alexandru Lascae. Again, the sense of Jansen as the first among equals makes for especially telling interplay with her colleagues.

 

Coupled with Brahms Violin Concerto

Heifetz; Chicago SO / Reiner

RCA 09026 61495-2 (64’ · ADD) Buy from Amazon

A performance of outsize personality from Heifetz and Reiner. Coupled with this same partnership’s sovereign account of the Brahms Concerto. 

 

Coupled with Brahms Violin Concertos Bach Violin Concertos Beethoven Romances

Oistrakh; Staatskapelle Dresden / Konwitschny

DG mono 447 427-2GOR2 (142’ · ADD) Buy from Amazon

Oistrakh at his sublimely musical and ­involving best in a work that stood at the ­centre of his extensive concerto repertoire. DG’s 1954 mono recording retains its remarkable sense of presence.

 

Coupled with Sérénade mélancolique. Valse-Scherzo. Souvenir d’un lieu cher 

J Fischer; Russian National Orch/ Kreizberg 

Pentatone PTC5186 095 (68’ · DDD/DSD) Buy from Amazon

A splendid recording from the hugely impressive young Julia Fischer. There’s power and poetry in spades and the orchestra accompany with thrilling commitment.

 

Coupled with Sibelius Violin Concerto

K-W Chung; LSO / Previn 

Decca 475 7734DOR (66’ · ADD) Buy from Amazon

Chung’s engagingly svelte and warm-hearted account has barely aged at all. A longstanding favourite, this, with Previn and the LSO also on top form. 

 

Coupled with Myaskovsky Violin Concerto

Repin; Kirov Orch / Gergiev 

Philips 473 343-2PH (72’ · DDD) Buy from Amazon

Enterprisingly coupled with Myaskovsky’s lovely Concerto, Repin’s remake of the Tchaikovsky proves even more masterly and engrossing than his Erato predecessor. 

 

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