Violin Concerto, Op. 24. Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello and
Orchestra, Op. 29
Anastasia Khitruk, Violin. Andrey Tchekmazov, Cello. Russian
Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Dmitry Yablonsky
Naxos 8.570350 TT:54:40. 2007
Robert McDuffie, Atlanta Symphony, cond. Yoel Levi. Telarc CD 80518. 2000.
Jascha Heifetz, Dallas Symphony, cond. Walter Hendl. RCA LM 2027. 1956
When Heifetz and Hendl premiered Rozsa's Violin Concerto in Dallas on
January 15, 1956, the audience cheered and the music critic of the Dallas
Morning News, John Rosenfield, raved that it compared with the violin
concertos of Prokofiev, Bartok and Sibelius, and that a 'modern composer
who can see a lyrical theme through' exhibited 'wild passions and 'a
thorough exploitation of color resources.' I am not sure about the wild
passions, though the opening allegro is marked 'passionato,' or these
comparisons, but this concerto is certainly lyrical, well orchestrated
and pleasurable to hear. The opening is luscious and the lento cantabile
is lovely, particularly toward the end. It is also a virtuoso piece,
with a cadenza prominently placed soon after the midpoint of the opening
Heifetz, whose performance is significantly faster than either Khitruk's
or McDuffie's -by several minutes - emphasized the virtuosity at the
expense of the lyricism, I think. At any rate I find both of the more
recent performances much more appealing and certainly neither of these
soloists is lacking in virtuosic skill. I cannot fault either of them;
even their timings are close---identical in the lento movement. Khitruk
does take a minute longer than McDuffie in the first movement.
There are easily discernable differences in the sound of the recent
recordings. It is quite good in both, and the Naxos recording is smoother
and better balanced than Naxos' recent recording of the Bloch Violin
Concerto. Personally, I prefer the vividness of the Telarc recording,
on which you can hear more clearly the beautiful horn playing in the
first movement. And I don't mind hearing McDuffie as if he were at the
other end of my living room. I can recommend both recordings.
The Sinfonia Concertante, which is included on the Naxos disc in its
entirety, is in three movements with the long middle one, my favorite,
being a theme and variations. Like the concerto, it was written with
Heifetz in mind, as well as Gregor Piatigorsky, who suggested this to
Rozsa. As it happened, the cello was given the longer part and the cello
solo which opens the theme and variations was so long that Heifetz burst
out, 'Do you expect me to stand there like an idiot all that time?"
giving Piatigorsky an opening to reply, 'Yes, Jascha, we expect you
to stand there like an idiot.'
Rozsa tactfully shortened the solo, but it is still as long as the cadenza
of the Violin Concerto, a good couple of minutes. He later revised the
work elsewhere also.
I have some reservations about the Sinfonia Concertante. Rozsa strove
to separate his Hollywood composing from the style of his concert music,
but it seems to me that some of the former influenced parts of this work.
It alternates between sweet lyricism and dramatic force. The former
does not strike me as excessive but the dramatic parts come close enough
to melodrama that I find myself asking what images they ought to go with.
The Telarc disc includes the Theme and Variations from the Sinfonia
Concertante, as well as a cello concerto written for Janos Starker.
Copyright 2008 by R. James Tobin
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