Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
By happy coincidence, these two new versions of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto appear with the same couplings. But where the Naxos version offers Souvenir d’un lieu cher in Glazunov’s orchestration, the Pentatone has it with the original piano accompaniment, played by the conductor, Yakov Kreizberg.
Interpretatively, the two versions offer a distinct choice. Kaler, who has recorded a number of discs for Naxos, won first prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1986, as well as in the Sibelius competition in Helsinki the previous year. He now works mainly in the USA. His approach is fresh, clean and direct, by no means unfeeling, with flawless intonation and fine shading of dynamic. He is not helped by a rather close balance in an otherwise excellent recording.
If anyone feels that Kaler’s reading is short on individuality, then they have only to go to Julia Fischer’s magnetic version. As her previous discs have demonstrated, she is characterful in every phrase, with a sparkle and sense of fantasy in virtuoso passages and an inner intensity in the intimate lyrical sections. Her free expressiveness over tempo may seem excessive in places but there is not a hint of sentimentality or self-indulgence; she is greatly helped by the conducting of Kreizberg with the Russian National Orchestra, which is both taut and sympathetic, with an ideal balance which allows the soloist the widest range of dynamic. The earlier Naxos version, coupled with the Mendelssohn, offers a reading between those of Fischer and Kaler, though Takako Nishizaki adopts such traditional interpretative variations as using a mute in the slow movement.
When it comes to fill-ups, it is specially relevant to have the “Meditation”, first of the pieces of Souvenir d’un lieu cher: this was the composer’s first idea of a slow movement for the concerto, later replaced by the Canzonetta. Here Kaler plays all three pieces with a folklike freshness, where Fischer again goes deeper, as she does also in the Sérénade melancolique.
In the other fill-up, the brilliant Valse-scherzo, Kaler finds some of the sparkle that is rather missing in the rest, but again Fischer plays with an even more marked sense of fun and fantasy, with more light and shade. Anyone who invests in the Naxos disc is not going to be disappointed, but Fischer again demonstrates what a great and distinctive artist she is.