Serenade melancolique; Souvenir d'un lie cher; Valse-Scherzo. Ilya Kaler, violin; Dmitry Yablonsky, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.557690.
There is no want of Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos on the market, many of them very cheap and many of them very good. But there is always room for one more when it is as good as this one. That it comes at so low a cost is icing on the cake.
Violinist Ilya Kaler plays with excitement and conviction, fire and soul, which are sometimes missing in a work that requires a good deal of Russian passion. One of the first criticisms of the Concerto was its supposed trivial "Cossack" element, something that today has become its biggest selling point. Anyway, Kaler does not shy away from the big moments, yet he seems equally at home in the meditative stages, too. I thought during the first few minutes of the performance that Kaler lacked the requisite fervor for this work, but either he or I warmed up to the proceedings, and by the time it was over, I was a believer.
In addition, the disc offers up the Serenade melancolique, the Souvenir d'un lie cher, and the Valse-Scherzo, all worthy, if lesser-known Tchaikovsky pieces. Personally, I would have opted for a second violin concerto, maybe the Lalo concerto that inspired Tchaikovsky, but that's neither here nor there.
The Naxos sound helps a lot, too. In terms of clarity and dynamics, it's terrific. It's one of Naxos's best efforts in years. Very, very clean; no bass overhang or fuzzy, muddy midrange whatsoever. However, one has to put up with a certain one-dimensional quality, with not much depth to the orchestral field, and the soloist prominently out front. By comparison, Heifetz on RCA sounds softer but more realistically represented. What's more, you can find the Heifetz disc at mid price, only a couple of dollars more than the Naxos, with an interpretation even more virtuosic than Kaler's. Nevertheless, for an inexpensive, absolutely clean digital recording of the work at a low price, Kaler is hard to beat.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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