TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto STRAVINSKY Les Noces
Marrying Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Les noces makes for a bizarre mismatch. Teodor Currentzis and his Perm orchestra MusicAeterna are on pungent form in the Stravinsky, a worthy successor to their terrific recent Rite of Spring (11/15). Indeed, it would have made a more sensible coupling there, as Sony issued The Rite all by itself. Rhythms are accented with punch and there’s a feel of Old Russia about the way the chorus intones the toasts of the final wedding tableaux. In this version for four pianos and percussion, the singers include the excellent Nadine Koutcher, winner of the 2014 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. No texts are provided, alas, for this wedding breakfast.
Take a closer look at the black and white wedding photo which adorns the cover, however, and you spy Currentzis and Patricia Kopatchinskaja as the happy couple. Kopatchinskaja is the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s concerto and the booklet features a pair of quirky billets-doux between them in which they expound their musical philosophies and, in particular, her route into ‘understanding’ a concerto that had often felt alien to her.
I’m a huge admirer of Kopatchinskaja and Currentzis as risk-takers. Inevitably, there are going to be times when those risks don’t come off. Alas, this is one of those occasions. First violins immediately signal what’s in store – stealing in very softly, with crotchets played like quavers, giving a clipped, businesslike statement. Kopatchinskaja’s opening phrase doesn’t swell to a forte and the theme is whispered on the lightest bow-hair. Yes, Tchaikovsky asks for piano playing, but he also asks for dolce, and sweetness is definitely missing from this glassy, scratchy introduction. At best, it could be described as skittish.
Every time things pick up – fireworks erupt when Kopatchinskaja hits her stride at 4'47" – something else comes along to dampen any mounting enthusiasm. She daintily tiptoes over the score when a mezzo-forte is called for and the cadenza contains much sul ponticello playing and chirruping high quavers, more Bartók than Tchaikovsky.
Lovely woodwind-playing opens the Canzonetta. Kopatchinskaja plays con sordino, but it is far too quiet, more akin to crooning. She tests the bounds of audibility in her dialogue with the clarinet and oboe in the finale (tr 3, 2'40") and drags back the tempo. Swollen notes and slurs in the solo line give the impression of a drunken Cossack, although Currentzis draws steely pizzicatos and stamps from his strings to really make this movement dance.
In short, this amounts to a total rethinking of Tchaikovsky’s concerto and you may well find it more to your taste than mine. If you are able to sample this disc, the first two minutes will tell you all you need to know.