TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto (Weithass) String Quartet No 3
‘A gracefully elegant, thoroughly aristocratic Russian’ is how the German violinist Antje Weithaas describes Tchaikovsky in her booklet note. She professes her desire to take his Violin Concerto away from being a virtuoso showpiece, making it more of a chamber collaboration. To this effect, she succeeds, in close partnership with Camerata Bern, who play without a conductor. Hers is an unassuming, unhurried account that shies away from heart-on-sleeve passions.
Weithaas steals in sweetly in the first movement, her tone clean and with minimum vibrato. Even her double-stopping sounds efficient and clinical rather than impassioned and her precise treatment of the cadenza (from 10'10") is a little like treading over glass, skating over the concerto’s emotional core. This isn’t a rethinking of the score as radical as Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s controversial recording but it has a detached quality which I find altogether too cool.
There is an attractive sweetness to her muted tone in the Canzonetta, which doesn’t wallow, with lovely woodwind exchanges. Her articulation in the finale is excellent, with some emphatic double bass drones giving a Russian flavour to the dance. But for a fiery, earthier account – the virtuoso show-stopper Weithaas is keen to depart from – I’d recommend Nemanja Radulovic´’s recent account, with Esther Yoo’s more emotionally contained reading coming midway between the two (both DG).
The coupling is puzzling. Weithaas and Käthi Steuri have arranged the Third String Quartet in E flat minor for 14 strings and it has the slightly anodyne feeling that the Souvenir de Florence can suffer in its string orchestra version. The arrangement blurs the quartet’s edges and drags its feet. Radulovic´’s disc closed with another questionable arrangement – the Rococo Variations for viola and small ensemble including piano. When Tchaikovsky’s other violin concertante pieces are so attractive and fill a disc so perfectly, dubious fillers remain a mystery.