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Bruch, Chausson, Korngold: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher

Bruch, Chausson, Korngold: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186503

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
Chausson: Poème, Op.25
Korngold: Violin Concerto

Arabella Steinbacher
Gulbenkian Orchestra
Lawrence Foster

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Review by John Broggio - April 4, 2013

An unquestionable triumph for all concerned.

Opening with the Korngold, it is immediately apparent that all protagonists (in front and behind the microphones) are on sensational form. The only competing account on SACD is Tchaikovsky, Korngold: Violin Concerto - Mutter, Previn and in all ways this newer account leaves the DG disc for dust. Apart from capturing the volatility more cleanly (Mutter displays uncharacteristically rough edges to her trademark steely tone), Steinbacher also projects an ecstatic ardour (especially in the gorgeous Romance) that makes the heart nearly burst with joy. The plaudits do not stop there for, in an orchestral score that frequently sounds echt-Hollywood, the Orquestra Gulbenkian under Lawrence Foster far outplay the LSO (who as stalwarts of the Star Wars saga amongst other film scores really should have the measure of this composer better) and the sound that the PentaTone team achieve makes the DG recording sound 30 years old instead of the (roughly) 10 years that it actually is - the presence (but not "spotlight") celeste a particular case in point. [I note with some embarrassment that I raved about the Mutter/Korngold performance & sound - mea culpa, I was wrong on all counts there.]

The Chausson that follows is scarcely less successful and like the Korngold only has one other account (with orchestra) on SACD: Akiko Suwanai - Poeme. The tender mournful tone set by the Orquestra Gulbenkian under Foster's unerring baton is met with a rapt eloquence that blossoms into full blown rhapsodising by Steinbacher as the music moves into more impressionistic territory. One is reminded that Foster was the accompanist for many a great violin concerto disc back in the 1980's & 1990's; his experience comes to the fore once again making more out of the "accompanying" passages in this work than many conductors do for the tutti passages - this is a real partnership.

Last but by no means least comes one of the most popular concertos on any instrument: Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1; not surprisingly there are 10 other competing accounts on SACD ranging from historical accounts such as Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Vieuxtemps: Concerto No. 5 - Heifetz, Sargent to more modern accounts like Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 - Gluzman, Litton and Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Violin Concerto No. 1 - Braunstein. Stylistically, Steinbacher opts for a more overtly Romantic approach than Braunstein (yet still observes the dynamic markings with as much care as him) and she adopts a freer approach to rubato that is more "mainstream" and so more easier to enjoy from the start. Although Braunstein's alluding to Mendelssohn is fascinating, Steinbacher and Foster get it spot on here with a healthy dose of Romanticism that stops just short of out-Straussing Strauss in the central Adagio. Similarly, while tempos are similar (if not even a little slower), the sheer bravura and grip that soloist and orchestra alike bring to the music make the experience far more exciting; indeed it makes this evergreen work sound afresh and not many recordings get one to feel that about such an oft heard composition.

As alluded to above, PentaTone's team of Job Maarse, Erdo Groot, Roger de Schot & Ientje Mooij are outstanding. Where Tudor's recording for Braunstein of the Bruch have "soft edges" that nearly but not quite hide detail, here the edges are nowhere near approaching coarseness but the clarity is palpable.

If I hear a better disc this year, I shall not only be very surprised but superbly happy!

Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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