PROKOFIEV Violin Concertos
Two competent and enjoyable but not world-beating performances here of two of Prokofiev’s most captivating scores. Matthew Trusler and Rudolf Koelman are as sure-fingered as one another, and everything is well coordinated between them and their respective orchestras.
The opening of the First Concerto immediately shows how much care each has lavished on inflection, without ever endangering the required dreamy quality, and each is alive to the magic that returns at the end as the violin swoons into its chains of stratospheric trills (though Koelman tends to sit down on the beat here, where the music really demands to be in the air up to the very last note).
Whether either player displays quite enough swagger or sense of mischief in some of the intervening fantastical moods I’m not so sure. In the second movement Koelman has more of the character, Trusler more of the technical poise, but neither can compete with the daredevilry and dash of Oistrakh (especially in his occasionally ice-skatey 1963 live performance with Rozhdestvensky). Similarly, neither Trusler nor Koelman quite gets the measure of storybook rapture in the third movement, where the freedom and eloquence in Oistrakh’s sound are things of wonder. Alternatively, for polished studio perfection and modern sound, Vengerov on Teldec is a sure bet.
In the Second Concerto Trusler is the subtler in shaping the opening lyrical phrases, though both players are more or less in the gleeful fantasy that propels the music forwards. However, the tightness in Trusler’s tone and his ungenerous vibrato when real warmth is called for are drawbacks with the slow movement – surely one of Prokofiev’s most inspired self-renewing melodies – while the problem with Koelman here is a certain rhythmic rigidity and literalness in the phrasing. Both are in their element with the grit and grunt of the finale, though I still prefer something more elegant than the somewhat unrelenting drive both favour.
Recorded balance is well judged in each version, though I find the Orchid Classics sound marginally more ingratiating, with the all-important goading bass drum in the Second Concerto more present and the violin tone slightly more flattered by the acoustic. All the same, I still prefer the superior glow and blend on the Vengerov/LSO version of the First Concerto. Admirable though the new discs are in many ways, my reservations tell me that I would be reluctant to shell out for either one.