Baiba Skride: American Concertos
Baiba Skride has been recording large swathes of the concerto repertory in relatively short order, travelling both along and off the beaten path. This programme of American music puts her versatility in sharp relief. Let’s start with the earliest work, Korngold’s luscious Concerto in D (1946), written for Jascha Heifetz. Skride has real feeling for the music’s extravagant yearning and she conveys it without ever slipping into cloying sentimentality – no small feat in this temptingly sweet score. And although she phrases with an eye (or ear) for the long view, she doesn’t stint on expressive detail. Listen, for instance, to the long, lingering portamento she adds at 5'28" in the first movement; or, starting at 3'58" in the Romance, to how beautifully her rubato sets up the dreamlike section that follows. I also appreciate the way she occasionally roughs up her tone in the finale, at least somewhat mitigating its relentless slapstick character.
Miklós Rózsa’s Concerto (1953), also composed for Heifetz, is much more of a rarity – and understandably so. The orchestration is attractively lush, the language vaguely and pleasantly evocative of Bartók, but there’s a lot of meandering, too. Heifetz, in his pioneering recording, helped sustain tension by keeping things moving; Skride opts to observe Rózsa’s tempo markings more thoughtfully. In the first movement, for example, she gives us the passionato while respecting the cautionary Allegro non troppo indication. She takes a leisurely tempo for the Lento cantabile, making it into an amorous reverie full of idealism and vulnerability. Heifetz is Heifetz, of course, and his highly volatile, intensely lyrical account should remedy the grousing that his playing is chilly. Skride is persuasive in her own way, however, particularly as she plays it with such beautiful, singing tone.
The Serenade (1954) is among Bernstein’s most perfect, concise creations and Skride really digs into it. Note how she starts the introductory solo so simply and sincerely, then gradually increases the intensity in her tone as the string orchestra joins her. It’s absolutely gripping as well as plain gorgeous, her glistening tone reflecting the glitter of percussion. I do wish she and the Gothenburg Orchestra put more swing in the faster, dancelike sections of the work. They’re a bit stiff, as if this were Stravinsky. But that in itself is interesting, as it sets the Serenade down squarely in the European tradition where it rightly belongs. Alas, Santtu-Matias Rouvali isn’t nearly as persuasive in the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Where’s the lilt in the Scherzo (‘Maria’) or the insinuation of sleaze and slickness in ‘Cool’? Even the ‘Rumble’ is over-choreographed, eliciting no sense of danger or impending tragedy.
Both orchestras provide excellent support in the concertos, however, although differing sound quality has a surprisingly significant effect. The Gothenburg recording puts orchestra and soloist practically in your lap, with unusually powerful bass; in Tampere, the engineers find a more natural balance but the relative lack of impact is conspicuous.