The last time I heard the Vienna Philharmonic accompany a violinist in the Brahms Concerto, it was led by Eugen Jochum with soloist Nathan Milstein for DGG–so it’s been a while. This collaboration with Valery Gergiev and Nikolai Znaider (12-19 December 2006) exults in the pure beauty and serenity of the Brahms sound, almost at the expense of anything like a sense of drama. One of the “dreamiest” interpretations I have heard, it seems as if our two principals set out to inscribe the most gorgeously “Viennese” realization we have had since the days of Fritz Kreisler. The application of the VPO strings strikes me as rather dry, deliberately creating a contrast to the sweeping, full-toned gestures we have from Znaider, as soon as he makes his minor key entry against the flute. Znaider proceeds to milk the Brahms melodic sequences most shamelessly, which connoisseurs will find either affectionate or saccharine, to their taste. The orchestral tissue, even in the large periods over a tonic pedal, remains understated, the music played more for its spiritual consonance with the D Major Symphony than as a serious, titanic rival to the Beethoven Concerto. The latter part of the first movement, just prior to the cadenza, does shoot some virile sparks; but the Joachim cadenza seems inflated, overly creamy, a ripe marshmallow. Znaider drags out the coda forever, though some will call it a love-scene from Tristan.
The F Major Adagio features lovely oboe playing, Znaider’s offering up the counter melody with French horn in poised love-letters. The transition to the middle, agitated F-sharp Minor section maintains a fine reserve, every note etched in silver. A sense of reticence pervades the gypsy Rondo, despite the energy and vivacious brio that Znaider projects into the flurries of notes that soar and twist through space. The second repetition of the ritornello does better, the VPO horns in fine fettle, with a crisp, four-beat transition to the G Major central section. Still, the feeling seems peremptory, “planned” spontaneity. The gorgeousness of the VPO tuttis will likely render my qualifications moot. But I miss the thrill that a Milstein, Oistrakh, Senofsky, Francescatti, or Neveu could project into this piece without overt “method.”
The 1945 Korngold Concerto, however, seems tailor-made for the sentimental approach Znaider sports, the themes–in spite of their occasional asperity and audacities–derived from Hollywood movies like The Sea Hawk. Again, the aim of this inscription appears to have been to gild this lily inside the most romantic spotlight Vienna could project. If Heifetz presented the music with classical reserve and honed lines, Znaider swirls in their confectionary character. Errol Flynn–seen through the Michael Curtiz lens–lives again in the voluptuous sound space of the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. The G Major Romance weaves an extended song that glows in MGM colors, some of them tenderly exotic. The last movement Finale enjoys a rambunctious good humor of a peasant 6/8 dance from Robin Hood, whose middle section in duple time allows Znaider to apply the kind of raspy, swashbuckling sounds appropriate to the extrovert personality of this lyrically popular kind of symphonic writing.