Tuesday 2 December 2014

My Dusty Gramophone brings an interesting and wonderfully played recital from violinist Dunja Lavrova and Konstantin Lapshin that, through a novel new recording, brings back memories of classic discs of the past

Violinist Dunja Lavrova www.dunjalavrova.com began her studies at St Petersburg's School for Exceptionally Gifted Children (adjusted to St Petersburg's Music Conservatoire), in the class of Vera Dobrynina before moving to Britain at the age of 13 where she gained a full scholarship to study at The Yehudi Menuhin School in the class of Natasha Boyarsky and, later, Maciej Rakowski.

Since then she has performed as a soloist with the Russian National Television and Radio Orchestra, The Concert Orchestra of St Petersburg, English Symphony Orchestra, Russian Virtuosi of Europe, Kent Sinfonia, King's Symphony Orchestra (London), London Concertante amongst others. As a chamber musician she has performed at such London venues as Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room.

The Independent said of her that ‘No praise can be too high for violinist Dunja Lavrova. She proves herself on a level of the great fiddlers of the past.’

Now Lavrova has recorded for Solo Musica www.solo-musica.de  an album of short works entitled My Dusty Gramophone that takes the listener back to the days of the great Jascha Heifetz and vintage studio recordings made with a soft, dry, close-up sound. I can do no better than quote Dunja Lavrova herself concerning the ideas behind this unusual new disc.

‘My love-affair with historic recordings began long before I started to play violin. Recordings by Jascha Heifetz, Ginette Neveau and Ida Haendel, which my family owned on vinyl and which I listened to obsessively as a child, were precisely what made me decide to become a violinist. These old recordings still largely dominate my music collection. For me, there is something that is extra special in the vintage studio recordings, in particular those of Jascha Heifetz's: something so personal in that soft, dry, close-up sound! It is as if you are sitting in the musician's living room and hearing them play JUST for you! Sometimes it is so intimate that you feel that the sound is simply whispered right into your ear.’

‘A few more things that happened in the next couple of years, like my discovery of the perfect wound-gut strings for my instrument, getting rid of my shoulder rest and my use of ‘old-school’ portamento in romantic repertoire that made some of my colleagues jokingly suggest I might have been born ‘a hundred years too late…’

‘Solo Musica, the record label that offered me the most exciting contract, had just the perfect sound producer for this project, Holder Siedler, who also re-masters vintage records. We agreed pretty much on everything from the word go. Having the microphones so close-up felt very unforgiving and recording numerous full live takes of the same pieces was tiring, but I must admit that the thing I particularly indulged in was using more portamento than it is usually done these days because the repertoire I chose for the album and the way we recorded it actually encouraged it. And I think it makes for a more authentic experience, which is exactly what I wanted to recreate: a trip back in time.’

On this new recording from Solo Musica, Dunja Lavrova is joined by pianist Konstantin Lapshin http://konstantinlapshin.com


Dunja Lavrova opens this unique recital with Wieniawski’s Polonaise No. 1 in D Major, Op. 4. The piano opens at a normal distance but when Lavrova enters it is much more forward. Soon however, one is pulled into the intimate, wonderfully virtuosic playing. With the microphones this close one can take in every detail, texture and nuance; of which there are many in this violinist’s extremely fine playing.

With Tchaikovsky’s Melodie from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42 this recording works even better with Tchaikovsky’s beautiful piece developing a hushed, intimate quality even in the more lively passages. There is some exquisite playing. Rachmaninov’s  Romance Op. 6: No. 1 has a lovely forward sweep with Lavrova’s extra portamento and lovely timbres finely done.

There is a lovely Latin lilt to Heifetz’s arrangement of Ernesto Halffter’s Danza de la gitana from his Sonatina. Here the nostalgic effect works to perfection with the sort of piece one remembers from old discs. There is some terrific playing towards the end. Debussy’s famous Clair de lune from his Suite bergamasque is beautifully played in an arrangement by A. Roelens and sounds very much of the past with the gentle, close recording, as though looking through into another world, but without the crackles.

There is an attractive flowing performance of Schumann’s Intermezzo from his Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor with some fine textures produced from Lavrova’s gut strings extremely well brought out in this recording. Heifetz is the arranger of Riccardo Drigo’s Valse Bluette from Arlekinada where this violinist brings a lovely touch with her lovely sonorities and fine light technique.

There is more Rachmaninov in Heifetz’s arrangement of Daisies, Op. 38: No. 3 with some exquisite high notes and lovely textures. Such a recording wouldn’t be complete without Paganini who is represented here by his Cantabile in D Major, Op. 17 giving us an opportunity to hear so many of Lavrova’s fine musical attributes with the gut strings really adding something here.

Shostakovich at first sight seems an unlikely composer for such a disc yet this transcription by D.M. Tsiganov of the Prelude No. 10 in C-Sharp Minor from his 24 Preludes, Op. 34 brings the same historic feel despite Shostakovich’s modern harmonies. There are some terrific violinistic moments. There is true beauty in this performance of Debussy Beau soir in another arrangement by Heifetz where Lavrova’s lovely sonorities and subtle feel for this piece are wonderful.

Gershwin’s Bess, you is my woman from Porgy and Bess arranged by Heifetz works so well with Lavrova bringing fine sonorities and her lovely portamento and some remarkably fine double stopping. Deep River (traditional arranged by Heifetz) is hugely attractive with a languid flow, fine fluid piano accompaniment from Konstantin Lapshin and superb harmonies and textures from Lavrova.

These artists bring an old world feel to Albeniz’s Tango from Espana, Op. 165 arranged by that other legendary violinist, Fritz Kreisler. Similarly with Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita arranged by Heifetz they brings an old fashioned ‘salon’ style beautifully played with fine accompaniment from Lapshin.

Dunja Lavrova and Konstantin Lapshin then bring us three pieces from Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, the Moderato – II where this pianist shows his fine skills whilst Lavrova spins some extremely fine sounds, an exquisite, heartfelt little Un peu plus lento and a terrific Allegro molto Vivace where both players really throw themselves into it with some particularly accomplished playing from Lavrova.

This disc ends with the traditional piece Nana from Manual de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares espanolas where there is more atmospheric playing and sound quality before an exquisitely hushed conclusion.

The recording technique used on this disc is not one that will necessarily appeal to everyone but as a one off concept disc this has many endearing qualities and not a little top notch playing.

One soon finds oneself enjoying the recording and detailed sound of Dunja Lavrova’s wonderful technique finely accompanied by Konstantin Lapshin.

There are interesting booklet notes about the concept and recording and those interested can go to Lavrova’s website www.dunjalavrova.com to read and hear more.

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