TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto (Esther Yoo)
I happened to miss Esther Yoo’s DG debut disc of Sibelius and Glazunov concertos. On the basis of this all-Tchaikovsky release, more fool me. I’ve reviewed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto many times recently and this is the finest version to cross my path in the past year. Yoo, the youngest-ever winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2012, is clearly already an accomplished artist. Her dark, aristocratic tone is treasurable, yet one senses she isn’t forcing unnecessarily for vulgar effect. She plays with compact vibrato and can pare her sound down to a fine pianissimo without her 1704 ‘Prince Obolensky’ Stradivarius ever sounding undernourished.
Once again, Yoo is partnered by the Philharmonia and conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, a reassuring presence in Russian repertoire who doesn’t pull around tempos and dynamics as Daniel Barenboim does on Lisa Batiashvili’s otherwise excellent recording (also on DG). The first movement unfolds naturally and the cadenza is dispatched with panache, although Yoo’s playing doesn’t contain the exuberance of Ilya Kaler on a similarly programmed Naxos disc. Yoo maintains a sense of flow in the central Canzonetta, while the Allegro vivacissimo finale dances. In a booklet note, the violinist writes about her response to Tchaikovsky’s music and how it’s helped her in trying to overcome life’s challenges. Her interpretation of the concerto is still a little skin-deep but should plumb the emotional depths in time.
The rest of the disc is made up of concertante works. There are a couple of numbers from Swan Lake, including the Andante from No 5, frequently transposed to the ‘Black Swan’ pas de deux. By throwing in these ballet bonbons, however, there’s no room for the complete Souvenir d’un lieu cher, including the ‘Méditation’ which was the original slow movement to the concerto. This rather gives the edge to Kaler, if you’re looking for a disc of Tchaikovsky violin works; but Yoo’s expansive playing, though slower-breathed, is not without drama and makes this a most attractive disc.