Ivry – The Great Violin Concertos = MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 – Orchestre National de l’Opera de Monte Carlo/ Antonio de Almeida (Sibelius)/David Josefowitz – Doron DRC 4013, 52:37 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:
Two performances from Monte Carlo (13-14 June 1978) of familiar violin concertos feature the immense talent of Israeli violin virtuoso Ivry Gitlis (b. 1922) playing his “Sancy” Stradivarius of 1713 to luminous effect. The 1844 Mendelssohn Concerto hardly needs more commentary, as it likely requires few “new” recordings. But the sheer speed and accuracy, not to mention unreasonable frenzy, of the Gitlis-Josefowitz collaboration virtually demands our immediate attention. Even the bassoon solo that links the Andante to the previous movement bears a spectacular intensity. A pupil of Enescu and Thibaud, Gitlis nurtured a decidedly unconventional approach to the standard repertory, a “gypsy” ethos that has no qualms with scooping, tugging, and stretching phrase lengths and note values. His application of vibrato and bow pressure has no justification except that it works and produces an emotionally exhausting experience on all who listen to his unremitting passion. The Mendelssohn Andante by him might be a cathedral or a response to a vision of Paradise. Conductor Josefowitz, by the way, co-founded the Concert Hall Record Club years ago, producing something like 2500 red vinyl LPs for a voracious classical music-consuming public. [I still have a few…Ed.] Gitlis urges a ferocious tempo for the Allegro molto vivace, his wicked articulation never faltering and his intonation perfect. The Gitlis bravura, always gutsy and unapologetic, finds in Mendelssohn a breathless excuse for high polish and fairyland filigree. It isn’t often that the Mendelssohn chestnut catches fire with new life, but this performances astonishes, no matter what your degree of musical complacency.
For the Sibelius Concerto, Gitlis has the support of French-Portuguese conductor Antonio de Almeida (1928-1997), who became a decided authority on Offenbach and conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. The 1905 Sibelius Concerto makes a perfect vehicle for Gitlis, with its high-velocity emotional contour and requests for harmonics and various dramatic effects. Almeida provides the appropriate Northern sensibility in the orchestra, rife with gruff and vibrant windswept vistas and lowly grumblings among the woodwinds and bass fiddles. Gitlis comes hurtling in like a demented banshee after the first large tutti with its pedal point that leads to a quasi-cadenza and real cadenza, at first punctuated by thunderbolts from the orchestra. The sheer nervous intensity Gitlis projects rivals the famed Heifetz-Hendl inscription, and Gitlis proves the riskier soloist. The bassoon brings the orchestra back to the almost Wagnerian mayhem, with Gitlis’ moving seamlessly from parlando to recitative to stunning ariosi in the blink of an eye. His final epic trill propels to the Herculean coda, a madhouse of chattering evil spirits mixed with the Northern Lights.
The marvelous Adagio di molto allows Gitlis (and Almeida) to sing most rhapsodically in full Technicolor; and Gitlis’ even tone, bolstered by the breathed phrasing, hypnotizes all within range of the siren’s call. As the music gains enriched texture and more instruments in stretto, the swirling effect becomes an emotional Charybdis, inviting us all into blissful, annihilating Abyss. “A polonaise for polar bears,” in Tovey’s phrase for the last movement, Allegro ma non tanto, here becomes a polonaise for epic polar bears, for Bigfoot or a herd of triceratops. Again, Gitlis imposes a massive vertical sound upon the supporting woodwinds that blizzard by. The stunning finesse and security of the playing, at no mean speed, quite leaves us in awe, every musical phase seared into our collective memory in Hephaestus’ blacksmith shop. Enough literary analogies. Go hear these performances if you suspect I exaggerate. Seriously recommended for Best of the Year!
Brahms Violin Concerto; Schumann Symphony No. 2 – Henryk Szeryng, Carl Schuricht – Forgotten Records
Two stellar, musical personalities in live concert