Prokofiev; Sibelius Violin Concertos

Gringolts goes his own way, but he doesn’t always take Sibelius with him

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Prokofiev; Sibelius Violin Concertos

  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • (6) Humoresques, G minor
  • (6) Humoresques, G minor
  • (6) Humoresques, E flat
  • (6) Humoresques, G minor

There are some fine things here, not least the svelte allure of Ilya Gringolts’s tone, sallow and chaste at the beginning of Prokof-iev’s First Concerto, warmer, more generous for his first entry in Sibelius’s slow movement. The leaping figurations from 2'45" into Prokofiev’s first movement have plenty of lift but I thought that the scherzo’s propulsive centre coarse to the point of ugliness. Then again, Gringolts tends to go in for quick-fire characterisations, savaging one phrase before caressing the next, which quite often lends his playing an off-the-cuff quality. Neeme Järvi’s accompaniment makes a feature rather than a fetish of detail, much aided by superb sound.

My favourite tracks are the four Sibelius Humoresques, Op 89, three of them in G minor, all hinting towards the disquieting world of The Tempest incidental music composed a few years later. I loved, in particular, Gringolts’ wryly smiling approach to the droll eastern-style cadences in No 3, Alla gavotta, his coy playfulness of No 4’s Andantino, the chordal cuckoo call (answered by the flute) that opens the fifth piece. These short-stay charmers really suit him.

The Sibelius concerto has its happy moments and felicitous touches (excellent woodwinds and the lead bassoon is a bit of a star), but I found the whole oddly unengaging – even though, as in the other pieces, Gringolts draws on a fairly wide tonal palette. The latter half of the first movement lacks tension, the finale is a little leaden and the orchestra too often sound dutifully supportive rather than active participants in what is after all a musical dialogue. I kept returning to this performance flummoxed by my own lack of enthusiasm, only to find it confirmed each time. Maybe it would have been better taped in concert: difficult to tell. But the Prokofiev and Sibelius Humoresques are well worth hearing.

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