PROKOFIEV; NIELSEN Violin Concertos (Petrova)
Liya Petrova and Jiyoon Lee shared first prize in the 2016 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition. Lee’s terrific recording of the Nielsen Concerto was released earlier this year (Orchid Classics, A/18), and now we have Petrova’s. Listening to them side by side, I understand why the judges could not choose one over the other, as they’re pretty much equals in terms of technical finesse and emotional commitment. Lee’s tone is bright, sweet and tightly focused; Petrova’s has more muscle and sinew. The Bulgarian-born violinist’s interpretative style is tougher, too. Take the passage leading up to the cadenza in the Allegro cavalleresco section of the first movement (at around 12'45" in both recordings) where Nielsen gives the soloist a fusillade of semiquavers. Lee flits elegantly over the orchestra like a sparrow, while Petrova wrings out more drama, phrasing in a way that suggests an attitude of determined jubilation.
I don’t mean to insinuate that Petrova’s sound isn’t beautiful. It is – when she wants it to be. I wrote ‘ravishing tone!!!’ in my notes for the lyrical section halfway through the finale (starting at 4'26"). Indeed, I’d say Petrova plays with exceptional tonal variety. But what impresses me most, perhaps, is the way she binds phrases together. You can hear this plainly in the opening of the Nielsen, and again in the Prokofiev. Some violinists make the latter into something of a bel canto display, full of coy pianissimos. Petrova, more concerned with moulding expressive gestures and forming cogent paragraphs, cuts closer to the bone. I was startled, at first hearing, by the weightiness of her Scherzo – no Mendelssohnian quicksilver here – but am now rather smitten by its whiff of dark urgency. Note, too, her thick, gluey tone at 1'05", so marvellously grotesque. And, again, everything is sewn thoughtfully together so that when we reach the last minutes of the concerto there’s a vivid sense of a journey coming to an unpredicted end – those intensely wistful trills at 6'29" – and a transformation, a new world beginning.
The Odense Symphony Orchestra play with confidence and character under Kristiina Poska, and seem as absorbed in their music-making as Petrova, particularly in the Prokofiev. A marvellous disc.