One of the Very Best Tchaikovsky VCs
Michael B. Richman | Portland, Maine USA | 09/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As much as I have praised Testament CDs in my numerous reviews here on Amazon, the majority of these specialty recordings are for classical connoisseurs and not the casual music fan. However, there are exceptions to every rule and one Testament disc that could (or should) be in every collection is this one. This 1957 stereo performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with soloist Christian Ferras and conductor Constanin Silvestri leading the Philharmonia, is quite possibly the best recording of the work ever made.
I own dozens of accounts and have heard that many more, and the Ferras/Silvestri is one of the two best in my opinion. I've gushed over the Heifetz/Reiner in the past, and while I still enjoy it, I now realize why so many Tchaikovsky VCs seemingly stumble into the music is because the piece demands more than perfect technique. Two of my personal favorites, Oistrakh/Konwitschny and Francescatti/Mitropoulos are in mono and can't be recommended across the board because of their sound quality. Other performances, all by violinsts I enjoy -- Oistrakh (this time with Ormandy), Stern (with Ormandy & Bernstein), Morini, Milstein, Grumiaux, Haendel, Ricci, Gitlis, Menuhin, Perlman, Zukerman, Chung, etc. -- seem to lose their steam somewhere in the second movement (if not the first!), and sometimes the conductor is to blame. But here the slow movement is done to perfection! Just listen to and learn from the great Silvestri how to perfectly accompany the soloist, as he heightens Ferras' delicate tone and passionate playing.
Silvestri also partnered with Leonid Kogan on the other "best" Tchaikovsky VC, a 1959 performance with the OSCC currently available on an admittedly more affordable EMI Encore title. But as good as that account is, the Philharmonia is simply a better orchestra, and one can't help but think that the reason why the record company chose Silvestri for a second stab at this Concerto with Kogan (rarely done unless updating a mono recording) was because of his enormous success with Ferras. Ferras re-recorded this work as well with Karajan for DG, and that version gets plenty of praise, but there is too much orchestral gloss for my taste.
But enough about the Tchaikovsky because that's not the only great music you get with this disc. Also featured on this title is a delightful 1962 recording of the Brahms Double Concerto again with Ferras and the Philharmonia, and joined by cellist Paul Tortelier and conductor Paul Kletzki. This is a great rendition and it resides comfortably in my Top 5 Doubles, along with the Schneiderhan/Starker/Fricsay (see my review), Oistrakh/Fournier/Galliera, Oistrakh/Rostropovich/Szell, and the Francescatti/Fournier/Walter. You will certainly find cheaper CDs of these works out there, but you'll be hard pressed to find any better."
* * * 1/2 - Energetic, but the Tchaikovsky is all over th
John Grabowski | USA | 03/14/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I find it rather inexplicable that in an age where every slur, accent and dynamic of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert scores are gone over with a fine tooth comb, with musicians fretting over whether certain notes are staccato or a phrase is played p or pp, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is sliced and diced, chopped and plucked, without anyone raising an eyebrow. I've never heard two performances that were alike. The score has various alteration--optional intervals of a third, octave leaps, notes that are sometimes bowed and sometimes plucked. And many conductors--most in fact--make cuts in the third movement, cuts that actually help things along as far as I'm concerned. Most of the time the audience doesn't even know of these changes: concert programs and liner notes rarely mention them or inform listeners which version of the heavily-edited score they are hearing. I'm amazed no one has come up with a HIP version of this concerto with all sorts of scholarly annotations and restorations. (At least, to my knowledge no one has; maybe I'm just unaware of it.)
This performance, however, by violinist Christian Ferras with Constantin Silvestri conducting a white-hot Philharmonia Orchestra in 1957, is about the wildest I've ever hear when it comes to taking liberties with the score. In addition to all the octave leaps and parallel thirds one often gets in this work, there are some severe cuts to the first movement--huge jumps that someone even just casually-familiar with the work will hear right away. The cadenza is also very altered. As for the playing itself, it is just about the most passionate Tchaikovsky VC I've heard, but Ferras bothers me, and I am puzzled somewhat by his reputation. I find his tone awful and I don't hear the technical command that the writer of the liner notes does. (I used to own on vinyl his Beethoven concerto with Karajan, which I always considered the worst performance of that work I've encountered. The writer of the notes to this release claims it was Karajan's favorite. Whatever.) I hear intensity and good ideas, but his tone honestly becomes painful for me to listen to after a while, especially in such an extroverted concerto where subtly isn't the first quality to come across. The music here is rousing at times, but it's also very rough and coarse--yes, I appreciate this is a fiendishly difficult work, but there were spots where I cringed. These qualities may not bother you. They bothered me.
The Brahms Double is another matter. This is possibly the second-finest performance I've ever heard of this work, grand and spacious and noble. (My number one favorite is Gil Shaham and Jian Wang with Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.) The cellist here is Paul Tortelier, one of my favorites and someone for whom noble is second nature. The very underrated Paul Kletzki leads the same Philharmonia in an epic, soaring performance. Kletzki engaged in an even more exciting reading--unsurpassable, actually--of the Double years earlier with the Busch Brothers (Adolf and Hermann) but this is better sound (1962). I'd recommend the CD more for this second work, but you may not be bothered by a wild, nervous, uneven Tchaikovsky concerto with some honking huge cuts. You have been warned, however. And you should also check out that magnificent Kletzki Double, which I see has been reissued. You have to put up with some not-so-great sound, as I said, but it's a performance for the ages. It's ironic that the strongest reaction I get from the present CD is to dig up an older one and listen to that again, but there you go."