SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor; BEN-HAIM: Three Songs; BARBER: Violin Concerto – Zina Schiff, violin/ MAV Sym. Orch./ Avlana Eisenberg – MSR Classics

by | Nov 7, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; BEN-HAIM: Three Songs Without words; BARBER: Violin Concerto, Op. 14 – Zina Schiff, violin/ MAV Symphony Orchestra/ Avlana Eisenberg – MSR Classics MS 1459, 65:45 [Distr. By Albany] ****:

Violinist Zina Schiff, a former pupil of both Jascha Heifetz and Ivan Galamian, proves herself an adept in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, a work several women virtuosos have embraced over the years with especial ardor: witness Ginette Neveu, Ida Haendel, Camilla Wicks, Sylvia Marcovici, and Guila Bustabo. In this intriguing collaboration (rec. July 2011) Schiff has a Hungarian orchestra led by her own daughter, Avlana Eisenberg, a pupil of Erick Freidman, himself a Heifetz protégé.

The Sibelius Concerto first movement Allegro moderato accentuates a forward momentum that does not drag nor indulge in hyper-romantic exaggeration. While occasionally sternly dramatic, the performances highlights the lyric ardor of the occasion, especially when the violin sings arioso over a drone bass line. Schiff herself eschews any sort of flashy bravura, though her technique suavely embraces brilliant and technically daunting filigree without strain. Most persuasive, her rendition of the second movement Adagio di molto sings with heartfelt sympathy in breathed phrases for Sibelius’ northern sensibilities.  Even the so-called “polonaise for polar bears” third movement opts for marcato dance steps in lieu of banshee pyrotechnics. We experience more of Sibelius’ alluring poetry in this work than his capacity for demonic excursions into the Scandinavian mythos; and for some listeners, the experience may render Sibelius too tame.

Paul Ben–Haim (nee Frankenburger) composed his Three Songs without Words in 1952 for high voice and piano.  In three parts or tone-pictures, the work has a lyrical kinship with Ernest Bloch and with Ibert’s exotic Ports of Call. The Arioso invokes the sultry heat of the Judean Desert. The lovely riffs between violin, flute, and harp in the Ballad suggest the busily flirtatious machinations at the shuk, or marketplace. The set concludes with Schiff’s intoning the Sephardic Melody, which opens rather in the manner of Ravel’s Tzigane as cross-fertilized by sirocco wafts of air and then extends into a luxurious love song.

Zina Schiff, similar to Ruth Posselt, has maintained a strong advocacy of the Violin Concerto in A Minor (1939) by Samuel Barber, whom Schiff met through her studies at the Curtis Institute and concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Schiff and Eisenberg approach the work in the spirit of Knoxville, Summer of 1915, a dreamy nostalgia occasionally fraught by passionate recollection. The Ben-Haim and the Barber make the strong case for Eisenberg the conductor, more so than the Sibelius. A lovely oboe ingratiates its way into the lulling beauty of the Andante, in which Schiff’s artistry shines in meditative splendor.  The fire we’d been anticipating comes to the fore in the Presto in moto perpetuo, a bustling tour de force for Schiff and the orchestra, metrically and dynamically sizzling and rife with jazzy agogics and fanfares.

Solid sonics for these renditions provided by Recording Engineer Zoltan Pecze. [Another review of this same disc, by Steven Ritter, is here…Ed.]

—Gary Lemco

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