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Best Recordings of 2015 (#10)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2014 . My lists for the previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 10 - New Release

Wartime Consolations, Linus Roth (violin), José Gallardo (piano), Ruben Gazarian, Württemberg CO Heilbronn, Challenge SACD

available at Amazon
K.A.Hartmann, M.Weinberg, D.Shostakovich
Concerto funebre, Moldavian Rhapsody, Concertino, Unfinished Violin Sonata
Ruben Gazarian / Württemberg CO Heilbronn
L.Roth, J.Gallardo (piano)
(Challenge SACD)

Linus Roth has fared well with Mieczysław Weinberg. After a notable recording of the Violin Sonatas his recording of the Violin Concerto (coupled with Britten’s) was a hit that received glowing reviews from dozens of magazines, including an always coveted “Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice”. He’s done it again, as far as quality of performance and quality of incoming reviews are concerned. This time he has coupled the Karl Amadeus Hartmann concerto (a dark, war-anticipating masterpiece among 20th century concertos) with two relatively lighter works by Weinberg, the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes op.47 and the Concertino for Violin and Strings which displays lyrical sweep (subtly guarded by a wistful air against any joyous excess) and tender gracefulness. The purely orchestral Rhapsody was such a success that Weinberg also set it for violin and piano (included on Roth’s recording of the Sonatas) and for violin orchestra. That version (presumed to exist) is lost, so Roth performs Ewelina Nowicka’s re-arrangement from the chamber version. The “Moldavian” themes of this Rhapsody are of course decidedly Jewish themes from Moldavia… but Weinberg knew better than to advertise that openly, after the still recent attacks on his “cosmopolitanism” and imprisonment and state-murders of Jews around the USSR, including that of his father-in-law’s.

The disc is again a Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice (“an eminently collectable disc”) that arts editors took turns lauding as “a strikingly rewarding programme” (The Telegraph) and commending Roth for unearthing the “fascinating find” (The Observer) of the unfinished first movement of a Shostakovich Violin-Sonata-to-be. (Of which this is the world premiere recording.) I would pipe up to suggest that the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn plays nearly as well as the DSO Berlin did on the last disc, or that the soloist finds just the right balance between dark and light, sorrow and twisted joy. But I must recuse myself, having written the liner notes for this release. 

# 10 – Reissue

D.Shostakovich, A.Glazunov, Violin Concertos, Itzhak Perlman (violin), Z.Mehta, Israel PO, Warner

available at Amazon
Dimitri Shostakovich, Alexander Glazunov
Violin Concerto No.1, Violin Concerto
Itzhak Perlman (violin)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta (conductor)

This release comes out of the new box of Itzhak Perlman’s Complete Warner Recordings. The box is the same rarified type and quality re-release that was the “Callas Remastered” box last year. (Reviewed on Forbes in detail and top choice among the best re-issues of 2014.) A detailed review of the Perlman box (largely a conversation between me and the wonderful Tim Page about Perlman) will be upcoming in the new year but I can already say this much: Perlman, for all his genial fiddling and popularity, is not Maria Callas. “Kind-of the 50-yard line of violinists for me”, as Tim Page said, ready to acknowledge that which was great about him and that about which he didn’t particularly care for. Like me, Page suffers from the problem that the music Perlman was best at is the one we care the least for. Apart from that, there’s too much music in this box that sounds terribly dated (Bach, Vivaldi et al.) or is kitschy (Perlman and Placido Domingo “Together”), at which Perlman, for all his popularity, wasn’t actually all that good.

But his best is amazing and the beauty of these insanely wonderful boxes from Warner is that each album—sturdy cardboard jacket, sleeve, liner notes, spine—can be bought individually. This record stands to some degree for the excellent production values of the set. But it also happens to be one of the most successful recordings of the lot. Perlman’s songful ways become the Shostakovich concerto tremendously, dolefully. It makes you wonder why Perlman never recorded the Second Shostakovich concert. The
fin de siècle element in the caroling concerto of Glazunov’s—teacher of, among others, Shostakovich himself, Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, and Nathan Milstein—suits Perlman just as well… and it speaks to his interpretation (and Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic at their occasional best in this live recording) that it withstands the competition of all these students of Glazunov and all the other great violinists who have given the Glazunov a shot. 

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