Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos / Znaider, Mehta

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What poses the greater danger for a young violinist? Recording unusual repertoire that will appeal only to a few (unfamiliar showpieces by obscure composers, avant-garde repertoire, manuscript Baroque works, and on and on) or taking the plunge and recording the 198th and 206th (not actual numbers) versions of war-horses committed to disc in this decade alone that will, again, appeal to only a few? What?s a young man to do? Nicolaj Znaider has chosen to record Beethoven?s Violin Concerto and to couple it with Mendelssohn?s. The two concertos, he contends (in snippets from an interview that Eric Wen included in the booklet) call forth the essential qualities a violinist must possess. At one time, critics?reserving judgment to find out how they later met more substantive challenges?tended to give short shrift to violinists who initially recorded less than significant repertoire. Of course, the bold and the brave would then be mercilessly compared with Heifetz, Szigeti, Oistrakh, Milstein, Francescatti, and others. Znaider has strong partners in Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, who play with abundant nuance in Mendelssohn?s Concerto and with powerful solidity to Beethoven?s. Occasionally, even seemingly ordinary phrases in Mendelssohn?s Concerto benefit from their attention, which consistently sets Znaider in a warmly nurturing context. And the monumental opening tutti (as Mehta and the Orchestra make it) throws a strong spotlight on the soloist in its equally prepossessing entry. The engineers? balance of soloist and orchestra (Znaider?s far enough forward to be clearly prominent yet not unnaturally dominant) provides an ideal. Znaider plays the 1704 ex-Liebig Stradivari, on loan to him, with sleek elegance, producing an even response in all registers. His sound?s never quite lush, but it?s commanding and appropriately subtle. When he?s unaccompanied in Beethoven?s first movement, his flexible tone production doesn?t require an underlying blanket to convey harmonic meaning. If he doesn?t sound sprightly in Mendelssohn?s Concerto, he never forces the piece into the Procrustean bed of late-Romantic expressivity, either. His playing?s never supercharged, like Maxim Vengerov?s (which, of course, risks mannerism), and it just as seldom flows so naturally as did Anne-Sophie Mutter?s early interpretations. But his technique shows itself to advantage in Kreisler?s first-movement cadenza, which he strops to a keen technical edge but also graces with penetrating musical insight. Has he solved the problem he explicitly set himself in Beethoven?s Concerto?making the omnipresent scales and arpeggios assigned to the violinist serve structural ends? In collaboration with Mehta and the orchestra, he?s made a good stab at it. These readings seem undergirded by a strong partnership and, in themselves, display all the virtues. What could be missing? My grandmother told my father about how easily recognizable Kreisler?s manner had been. Vengerov and Mutter, though not so individual as Heifetz or Oistrakh, can still be picked out after careful listening. Some violinists seek to solve musical problems, believing that in their solution they will find the Holy Grail. Breughel?s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus portrays the small figure of Icarus falling in a vast landscape, with all the countryside simply going about its own business. Of course, Icarus hadn?t solved his technical problems; but if he had, and had continued to soar, would the folk be portrayed watching him? Heifetz could bolt everybody to attention with a few notes, and I?m not sure that he did so by dint of having solved intellectual problems. What will my son tell his children about Nicolaj Znaider?


For anyone seeking this particular partnership of great violin concertos (and it?s not the most common coupling?the last Schwann Opus lists only several examples, some of these in sets) Znaider?s offers such a wealth of musical and violinistic virtues, that nobody could withhold a recommendation. But still, some unfulfilled desire to discern a personality, a human face with recognizable features, prompts me to issue that recommendation with less enthusiasm than the musical merits of the performances might otherwise deserve.


FANFARE: Robert Maxham


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: 82876692162


  • UPC: 828766921625


  • Label: Sony


  • Composer: Felix Mendelssohn, Ludwig van Beethoven


  • Conductor: Zubin Mehta


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra


  • Performer: Nikolaj Znaider



Works:


  1. Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64

    Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

    Ensemble: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

    Performer: Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)

    Conductor: Zubin Mehta


  2. Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ensemble: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

    Performer: Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)

    Conductor: Zubin Mehta


  3. Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ensemble: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

    Performer: Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)

    Conductor: Zubin Mehta


  4. Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ensemble: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

    Performer: Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)

    Conductor: Zubin Mehta