This astonishingly good disc from BIS brings us Tchaikovsky’s familiar warhorse of a concerto, supplemented with two fascinating but infrequently played pieces that both bear a level of kinship to Tchaikovsky’s masterwork. In 1878, Tchaikovsky was still in the doldrums from his disastrously brief marriage, and had escaped to Switzerland with his brother Modest, where he was half-heartedly working on his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin. The brothers were soon joined by violinist Josef Kotek, and the youthful Kotek’s enthusiasm sparked a renewed interest in music by Tchaikovsky. Laying everything else aside, he began work on his Violin Concerto, which he completely sketched out in only 11 days. Both Modest and Kotek expressed some reservations regarding the concertos’ inner movement, and Tchaikovsky wrote a new Canzonetta to replace it. The discarded movement was reworked and later became the Souvenir d’un lieu cher, the work that appears here and references Tchaikovsky’s generous patron, Madame von Meck. Tchaikovsky’s first choice for performance of the new concerto was Leopold Auer, who was the violin director at the St. Petersburg conservatory. Auer eventually championed the work, and upon his eventual retirement, was replaced at the conservatory by Alexander Glazunov in 1905. Glazunov’s Violin Concerto opens this remarkable disc.
Glazunov’s concerto is very rarely programmed by modern symphonies, perhaps because it doesn’t really follow most of the conventions for the concerto form. Although the work is played without pause, it does have three distinct movements. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, and at the beginning of its memorable third subject, I totally realized that I’d heard this piece, countless times before (probably on NPR), and just didn’t know who the composer was. Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher is essentially a violin concerto as well; it’s amazing to me that such an incredibly well-crafted piece is so very rarely programmed or played.
Violinist Vadim Gluzman plays magnificently throughout; his skillfulness and colorful playing has been compared favorably to none other than Jascha Heifetz. And to add authenticity to the performances, his violin is a 1690 Stradivarius that previously belonged to Leopold Auer! Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (one of the world’s oldest orchestras, established in 1765) provide superb support. This recording, which was made in the Edvard Grieg Hall, is breathtaking, and expertly renders that venue’s superb acoustic. This is a reference-quality recording, with near-definitive performances. Very highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs