MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto. Octet
Born in Hilversum of Russian-Jewish heritage, Liza Ferschtman is not a predictable player. Insisting that she would not record the Mendelssohn Concerto until she had discovered her own expressive take on the work, she turns in a rendition that manages to sound genuinely fresh. Her pure, silvery tone is not large but then neither is the accompanying band, more usually billed outside the Netherlands as the Arnhem Philharmonic, here sounding reduced in size notwithstanding a resonant acoustic. Both the outer movements culminate in remarkable bursts of speed yet the articulation of the soloist remains deft and elegant. Other parts of the opening Allegro molto appassionato are taken more deliberately than might be expected. Witness the tranquil second subject and the lead-in to it. The innovative cadenza, which Mendelssohn wrote out in full rather than allowing the soloist to improvise, has remarkable emotional and structural weight, and there are countless imaginative touches throughout.
Challenge Classics’ bill of fare is unusual but not unique, and James Ehnes offers formidable competition with his straighter, cleaner, more conventionally integrated realisations on the Onyx label. In the Octet his colleagues are billed as members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society, whereas Ferschtman is joined by a multinational scratch group of luminaries. With three-quarters of the Belcea Quartet involved the results are if anything even more passionate than in the concerto. The performance was captured live in Delft with a finale so intense that it isn’t always perfectly in tune. Should you be intolerant of intrusive sniffing this may not be the version for you, but I don’t doubt that listeners averse to the salon ambience of less fevered readings will find it sensational. The microphones are set much closer here.
I should perhaps mention that applause is retained after the Octet and that the booklet-notes are not always well translated. That said, it is heart warming to find Ferschtman’s own revivifying thoughts borne out by the special qualities of her music-making.