Barber / Bernstein / Bloch: Violin Concertos - Gluzman / Neschling
Classical - Orchestral
Bernstein: Serenade after Plato's Symposium, Bloch: Baal Shem – Three pictures of Chassidic Life, Barber: Violin Concerto Op. 14
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
John Neschling (conductor)
The three works for violin and orchestra gathered here testify both to the versatility of Vadim Gluzman as a performer and to the richness and variety of the influences at play in American music during the 20th century. Like the text by Plato which inspired it, Bernstein's Serenade, from 1954, is a series of statements in praise of love. Musically it is typical of its maker, with allusions both to his own music and to works by Bartók, Mendelssohn and Stravinsky, and with a hint of jazz in the finale.
Composed some thirty years earlier, Ernest Bloch's Baal Shem turns to the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, dealing specifically with aspects of the Chassidic movement. Its second movement, Nigun (Improvisation) is probably Bloch's most famous work for the violin, an attempt to recreate the ecstasy generated by fervent religious singing. Samuel Barber, on the other hand, was deeply fascinated by the music of J.S. Bach and Brahms, although this is not always obvious in his music. His Violin Concerto, which he began to compose in Switzerland in 1939, while war was breaking out in Europe, has been described as having 'a chastened and aristocratic classic style'.
That violinist Vadim Gluzman possesses the musical convictions and the supreme command of his instrument to do justice to all of these works will be clear to anyone who has encountered his previous concerto disc, with works by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. The recipient of numerous distinctions, it was glowingly reviewed, for instance in International Record Review: 'The variety of tone, lithe, sinuous and febrile ... is truly exceptional.' Gluzman is here supported by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) under John Neschling, a team that has demonstrated its versatility on a number of recordings ranging from Villa-Lobos' Choros to Liszt's piano concertos.
Review by Mark Novak - November 25, 2009
These three concerted works for violin make an excellent coupling. The Barber concerto is a true American gem. By far the most played of the three works on this program, it sparkles, lilts, contemplates and, in the closing presto, excites. There are some beautiful and memorable melodies here backed by a slightly advanced harmonic language that reveals its 20th century origins. Vadim Gluzman and the OSESP under John Neschling play the pants off this piece. Gluzman leaves nothing on the table and gives up nothing to Gil Shaham (DG RBCD) or Robert McDuffie (Telarc RBCD) in his spot-on performance.
Bernstein’s Serenade is orchestrated for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion. Though rarely played in concert and only slightly more evident on recordings, it too is a gem of a work. The impetus for the composition was Bernstein’s re-reading of Plato’s Symposium (a dialogue in praise of love). The adagio fourth movement in particular is sublimely beautiful. The only other recording of this work in my collection (also, ironically with Robert McDuffie on EMI RBCD) lacks the confidence and mastery that Gluzman and the OSESP demonstrate.
Bloch’s Baal Shem, an orchestrated version of the original violin and piano triptych, was written in memory of his mother. Though the piece doesn’t quote any Jewish melodies the piece has a middle-east pentatonic flavor underpinning some wonderful and often sorrowful melodies. Those familiar with Bloch’s music know that some of his compositions can be a bit thorny in tonality but not so this one. Again, Gluzman is superb. Let’s hope the Gluzman/BIS relationship will continue for a long time along such a fruitful path.
The sound of this BIS SACD is excellent. Except for the slightly too prominent solo violin (a common problem with concerto recordings) the recording is wide-range, dynamic and natural sounding with a judicious mix of direct and hall sound. I’ve been to Sao Paulo many times in the past 5 years on business (a huge, sprawling city) but unfortunately never had a chance to hear this marvelous orchestra. Now that I’m recently retired the chances of hearing them live have become miniscule. The playing on this SACD suggests I truly missed something special. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2009 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net
Review by John Miller - January 19, 2010
BIS have an excellent record for producing fine albums of American music. This intelligent programme puts together music from the lower-rank three Bs - Bernstein, Bloch and Barber. Apart from the ever-popular Barber Concerto, the other works are rarely heard in concert and are relatively infrequently recorded. Despite all being C20th works, they have in common neo-Romantic styles, an inexhaustible supply of melody - and they require a violin soloist of the highest quality.
Bernstein's Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion dates to 1954 and is a violin concerto in all but name. The composer avoided the traditional concerto structure by basing it on a reading of Plato's Symposium, and despite protesting that it was not programme music, supplied a movement analysis for those interested in the literary allusions. This is helpfully reproduced in the album notes. The work follows Plato's dialogue in praising Love and is one of Bernstein's most approachable pieces, with passing allusions to West Side Story. Each movement derives from organic development of themes announced in the first movement, and passes through a range of moods and intense emotions. The music is ideal for Gluzman's passionate style, and he plays the febrile and fertile cantilenas with a purity and passion which is deeply moving. The OSESP strings under Neschling respond with matching virtuosity and rich depth of tone, aided by ear-catching percussion and harp support.
Israeli Vadim Gluzman finds a soul-mate in the form of Bloch's 'Three pictures of Chassidic Life' from 1923, written a few years after Bloch settled in the US, finally leaving his native Switzerland. He espoused 'racial conciousness' rather than nationalism in his personal neo-Romantic style, and this three movement piece was orchestrated from an original piano and violin incarnation. The first movement, 'Confession' portrays a sinner's passionate self-abasement before his God; 'Improvisation' is a stunning virtuoso cadenza interjected with massive brass and drum chords, and 'Rejoicing' pictures a radiant and refulgent festival, giving scope for violin fireworks and many orchestral colours. Gluzman's fully-committed heart-on-sleeve performance and tonal beauty is at least equal to that of Bell and Zinman's RBCD version (coupled with their Barber concerto).
Bell's is certainly one of the finest readings of the Barber Violin Concerto in recent years, and Gluzman gives an equally brilliant but rather different interpretation. Ably supported by Neschling and his responsive orchestra, Gluzman is consistently a little more expansive in tempo compared with Bell/Zinman. His playing has great warmth and intensity - a volatile Mediterranean approach compared to the cooler Bell and Zinman, who are perhaps more authentically American in sound. In the opening of the first movement, for example, Gluzman and Neschling bring us vernal sunshine, moving forward with impetuous ebb and flow, while Bell/Zinman open in an understated way onto a misty, subdued autumnal scene.
Gluzman has a wonderful oboe soloist in the Andante, effortlessly spinning the long phrases of its exquisite melody, despite a notably slower pace. The movement's anguished climax is handled impressively by the OSESP, as is the movement's final passage to tranquil repose. Despite Guzman's technically impeccable flow of triplets in the brief finale (where the recording reveals a great deal of normally unheard orchestral detail), Bell's faster tempo and delicately mercurial approach is perhaps just the winner.
BIS engineer Uli Schneider has conjured a truly natural-sounding and impressive recording in the co-operative acoustic of the Sala São Paulo; perfectly focussed and coherent, replete with detail from the orchestral layers. There is a stunningly accurate sonic portrayal of the glorious Stradivarius violin used by Gluzman, especially its upper partials. The violin is certainly forward, but not enough to capture fingerboard noises or breath sounds.
The sound is so good, especially in multichannel, that I hesitate to quibble. I was, however, concerned by the very shy double basses of the OSESP as portrayed here. There is plenty of bass energy in the mix, as the thunderous timps and deep bass drum testify. But on a close comparison with several RBCDs of the same works, the double basses are almost missing. In the first movement of the Bernstein, the solo and orchestral violins play in a high register alone for some time, and one is longing for the bass to come in - a familar device in orchestration. When it does, the cellos are present but the double basses are weak. On several other RBCDs at this point, the basses' entry is truly frisson-making. Likewise, in the Barber concerto, the composer frequently uses a three-note downward phrase on pizzicato basses, heard very early on in the first movement and thereafter. These phrases are opulently clear with Bell/Zinman and several other RBCDs of the Barber. The basses also dig in to descend strongly immediately in the wake of the Second movement climax; they add gravity and counterpoise to the high treble of the violin. With Gluzman/Neschling, this passage is again unremarkable.
That aside, this album is much more than the sum of its individual performances. The synergy of the three chosen works makes a most attractive programme, a listening experience with excellent sound that I strongly endorse.
Copyright © 2010 John Miller and HRAudio.net