Because there’s a rule in the music industry that all violinists must record the Beethoven, Brahms, Violin Concerto in E minor. At Amazon I quit counting at a hundred, and I had quite a ways to go. The point is that somebody looking for a first-choice disc or just something to line up on the shelf next to a few first-choice discs may find the assortment of possibilities rather daunting. And the question here is, How does violinist Tianwa Yang’s interpretation, Maestro Patrick Gallois’s conducting, the Sinfonia Finlandia’ playing, and Naxos’s sound stack up against formidable competition from the likes of Perlman (EMI), Heifetz (RCA), Zukerman (Sony), Szeryng (Philips), Chung (Decca), Chee-Yun (Denon), and a slew of other equally recommendable folks? The answer: Ms. Yang does all right, if maybe not quite in the highest echelon.Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky violin concertos at least once in their lifetime, the listener will find perhaps hundreds of different recordings of the Mendelssohn
The still-youthful Ms. Yang, raised in China and now residing in Germany, began playing the violin in 1991 at the age of four, received her first media attention at the age of ten, made her first CD in 2000 at the age of thirteen, and debuted on stage in Europe in 2001. The present Mendelssohn disc makes the eighth album in her discography, so she’s not exactly a newcomer, and she does know what she’s doing.
Ms. Yang opens the show with the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, which Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) premiered in 1845, his last large orchestral work. Audiences pretty much loved it from the outset, and it’s been one of the most-popular staples of the violin repertoire ever since. The violin enters immediately, without introduction or fanfare, and Yang takes it head-on. Indeed, she takes all three movements at a heady clip, outpacing all of the other recording artists I had on hand for comparison except Heifetz, who sprints to the finish line ahead of everyone. Not that Yang’s performance ever sounds winded or short-breathed, just quick and lively.
Anyway, Yang has a good grasp of the situation, producing a heady combination of excitement and passion in the faster sections and much beauty in the slower ones. She obviously possesses a remarkable technique, and she displays her virtuosity at every turn. Moreover, while her propensity is for lively rhythms and zippy tempos, she leaves enough spaces in her phrasing to allow the music to breathe freely and come alive. This isn’t a rush job but one of accomplished dexterity in the manner of Heifetz.
The second movement glides effortlessly by with a lovely luminosity. Then the finale exudes all the light, bouncy spirit one could hope for, if maybe a little too much for some traditional listeners.
Mendelssohn was only thirteen when he wrote the Violin Concerto in D minor, leading some critics to dismiss it out of hand. Nevertheless, it has its charms, not the least being its characteristically classical tone and structure and its slightly plaintive, sometimes melancholy solo passages. Yang continues her emotionally compelling reading in an effective Andante and a jaunty Allegro conclusion.
The final selection on the disc is the Violin Sonata in F minor from 1833 in which pianist Romain Descharmes joins Ms. Yang. While neither of the disc’s companion pieces can touch the great Violin Concerto in E minor, they offer pleasant variety and accomplished playing, particularly in the Sonata’s whirlwind finish.
Naxos recorded the two concertos in 2010 at Hankasalmi Church, Jyvaskyla, Finland, and the sonata in 2011 at Clara-Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany. They obtained a nicely balanced sound, the violin well integrated with the orchestra and not completely dominating it as we sometimes hear. The midrange appears clean, the bass adequate to the occasion, and the dynamics steady. Maybe the sonics aren’t in the highest ranks of audiophile stardom, but along with a moderate degree of orchestral depth, they exhibit a welcome realism.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: