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 www.facebook.com/sarahnem www.naive.fr/en/artist/sarah-nemtanu , joint leader and violin soloist of the Orchestre National de France, performed Tchaikovsky’s concerto at a live Amnesty International www.amnesty.org.uk 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 www.naive.fr .
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.
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 www.amnesty.org.uk from the proceeds of every CD purchased.