Monday, 15 April 2013

A new release from Naïve of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto from Sarah Nemtanu recorded live at an Amnesty International concert in 2012

Of all violin concertos Tchaikovsky’s must be one of the most popular and most recorded. Begun in 1878, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35 was at first intended for the violinist, Josif Kotek, (1855-1885) who had given advice and played the work through with Tchaikovsky.  However, Kotek withdrew from giving the first performance and the work was dedicated to the distinguished Russian violinist, Leopold Auer. However, Auer did not find the work appealing and, combined with its technical difficulties, declined to play it.

The concerto was published but, for two years, there was no violinist willing to attempt a performance. It was the Russian violinist, Adolph Brodsky (1851-1929) that eventually played it in Vienna. Even then he wrote to Tchaikovsky about the tremendous difficulties of playing the work. There was something of an uproar at the first performance. The notorious critic, Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904) was extremely critical of the work, making the comment that the work proved that music could actually give off a bad smell. Tchaikovsky, understandably, never forgave him. Hanslick was not alone in his criticism as all the other leading Viennese critics were of a similar mind.

Eventually Auer changed his mind about the concerto, just as Nikolai Rubinstein had with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and became one of its most fervent advocates. It is now difficult to see how this concerto could have caused so much adverse critical reaction. Certainly the technical difficulties no longer prevent violinists from tackling the work.

Sarah Nemtanu , joint leader and violin soloist of the Orchestre National de France, performed Tchaikovsky’s concerto at a live Amnesty International concert at the Théâtre du Châtelet in April 2012 with Kurt Masur conducting the Orchestre National de France . This concert was recorded and has now been issued by Naïve .

The concerto is coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Op.70, another live recording, with Sarah Nemtanu joined by principals from the Orchestre National de France and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Luc Héry (violin), Sabine Toutain and Christophe Gaugé (violas) and Raphaël Perraud and Jean-Luc Bourré (cellos). This live performance took place at Maison de Radio France Studio 106, Paris in September 2012.

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From the opening of the allegro moderato the Orchestre National de France has a lovely smooth, sweet sound under Masur. As Sarah Nemtanu enters she shows immediately her lovely tone and that of her 1784 Guadagnini violin. She has a fine vibrato that adds the necessary amount of emotion and grit to the sound. In the cadenza she plays brilliantly, not rushed and with some lovely sounds from her violin. The merging of the violin with the orchestra at the end of the cadenza is beautifully done. This is very much an allegro moderato as the pace is often quite steady but allows Tchaikovsky’s beautiful concerto to unfold, with his lovely orchestration showing through. In the Canzonetta: andante, Nemtanu gives a beautifully sweet toned performance with some lovely interplay between violin and orchestral woodwind. Masur and Nemtanu seem very much at one. When the allegro finale leaps upon you, both Nemtanu and Masur bring terrific spirit to the music with some fleet orchestral playing and vivacious violin sound. This live performance has spot on ensemble with some beautiful melancholic passages in the quieter moments. There is so much characterful playing from Nemtanu and as she enters the final pages of this work her playing is truly virtuosic, giving a truly rousing coda.

This is such a musical performance with no unnecessary pyrotechnics. It is a pity that the recording was not set closer in order to reduce ambient noise.

The recording has no such problems in Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence that receives some lovely taut playing from this ensemble in the opening Allegro con spritio, with some passionate playing and a terrific coda. There are some lovely sonorities as the Adagio cantabile e con moto opens. This is a warm and joyful movement given a terrific performance. The allegro moderato again shows what rich sonorities this team can give, alert to so many nuances that help to bring this music alive. There is a lovely allegro vivace, with some terrific interplay between instruments, particularly as it leads into the bravura coda.

I don’t know how often these players have performed as a sextet or, indeed as any type of small ensemble. Some obviously play together in the two orchestras, but as a sextet their feel for each other’s playing is superb.

There must be reservations in any recommendation of the concerto given the nature of the sound in the live recording. However, in the absence of a studio recording from Sarah Nemtanu, this is a good way to hear this fine artist in this work. You also get an excellent live performance of the Souvenir de Florence as well as the knowledge that €1 will be donated to Amnesty International from the proceeds of every CD purchased.

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