Tuesday 24 May 2011

Review: Midori plays Paganini and Tchaikovsky

Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6
Sérénade mélancolique, Op.26
Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34 

Midori (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/
Leonard Slatkin
Newton Classics 8802028 
If you've noticed a slew of red topped Newton Classics discs appearing in online catalogues and stores, the good news is that their mining of the recorded past is set to continue and will ultimately lead to new recordings of their own.  One such reissue is this early recording by Japanese-American violinist Midori, who set these pieces down on disc in 1987, at the age of just 13.  Her subsequent success has seen her avoid the pitfalls of such early precocity and forge a continuously rewarding solo career, but that first flush of talent is captured here and makes for startling listening.

From her first entry in Paganini's First Violin Concerto, Midori's playing demands no special allowances for her age.  She's extrovert and characterful and has a greater perfection of intonation than some of her prominent seniors.  If you were without prior warning, you'd never know that this super confident playing belonged to one so young. Her subtle slides are stylish and in the taxing cadenza she remains unfazed and commanding.  In this Concerto, she is certainly superior in technique to Ilya Kaler on Naxos (8550694) and though Hilary Hahn is more crisply characterful and rhythmically incisive (Deutsche Grammophon 4776232), that hardly reduces Midori's achievement. If age is at all telling, it is in the more purely melodic moments which lack the expressive shading and nuance of a more mature musician.

It's this lack of maturity that makes Midori's performances of the two Tchaikovsky items less appealing. Although she still plays with a full, attractive tone, her way with the growing melody of the Serenade Melancolique is a little one dimensional. Once set, the dynamics and weight on the bow alter little and she suggests little in the way of spontaneity.  The bounce of the Valse Scherzo is absent, and Leonard Slatkin's leaden direction in the orchestral introduction doesn't help. It may seem churlish to pick on aspects of musicianship that a 13 year old cannot yet possibly have developed, but if you're going to buy this disc for the repertoire alone, you'd be best looking for alternatives in the Tchaikovsky.  Julia Fischer's Pentatone recording (PTC5186095), coupling these two charming works with the Violin Concerto and the Souvenir d'un lieu cher, is one of the best violin records of recent years and would serve as a better first port of call.

Ultimately, this reissue works best as a document of a remarkable case of early talent, with Midori offering a very enjoyable performance of Paganini's D major concerto and a technical security far beyond her years.  The violin is consistently well recorded, though sits rather more prominently in the mix than the orchestral accompaniment.

This review originally appeared at Musicweb-International.

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