Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D minor (CD review)

Also, music of Panufnik, Takemitsu, and J.S. Bach. Alexander Sitkovesky, violin; Dmitry Sitkovetsky, New European Strings Chamber Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 57440-2.

I assumed from their names and from the cover picture that young Russian violinist Alexander Sitkovesky and Russian conductor and violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky were father and son, but nothing that I could find in the booklet notes indicated their relationship. It turns out, Dmitry is Alexander’s uncle. Be that as it may, they make a smooth and agreeable team as soloist and conductor and in the Bach as co-violinists.

Unfortunately, I did not find their repertoire particularly well suited to my taste. The Mendelssohn is not the familiar Violin Concerto in E minor but the D minor Concerto the composer wrote when he was thirteen. Nobody ever performed it in Mendelssohn’s own day, and it was only in 1952 that Yehudi Menuhin exhumed and premiered it. Later, Menuhin took the young Alexander Sitkovesky under his wing, making him one of his protégés so to speak, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence why Sitkovesky chose the work for inclusion here, no doubt as a tribute to his mentor. In any case, there are reasons why most of us have not heard some pieces of music, and while one may find parts of the D-minor Concerto interesting, the jaunty final movement, for instance, which Sitkovesky plays with much enthusiasm, overall it does not strike me as among the composer’s strongest works no matter how well played. And well played it is, as are all the selections on the disc. Sitkovesky is a most-subtle and expressive performer, and it’s a pity we haven’t heard more from him.

Of greater interest is the Violin Concerto of Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), which displays more rhythmic vitality and more originality than the first work, albeit in an entirely different, more-modern style. Sitkovesky plays it with a feeling for its bouncy cadences and various mood swings. Again, the piece seems a tribute to Menuhin, as it was the older violinist who first performed it in 1972.

Following the Panufnik is a single-movement work called “Nostalghia” by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996). He dedicated it to the memory of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, and as such he marked it “calm and mournful.” Emphasize the last word. It is almost funereal and while quite lovely in most regards, it may put some folks to sleep.

Following this we find both Sitkoveskys performing Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, also at a rather slow pace. Maybe they were in a mood to demonstrate their serious, contemplative side. Or perhaps after my having listened to a recording of it by Hillary Hahn on DG just a few weeks earlier and being mightily impressed, the Sitkoveskys’ rendition was, though exceedingly smooth and well executed, something of a disappointment.

EMI’s sound is hardly a disappointment, though. It is extremely natural, ultra-suave, warm, well balanced, and remarkably lifelike. If there had been more on the disc that I enjoyed listening to, I would probably recommend it without hesitation. As it is, I have some hesitations. And maybe the buying public did, too, as I have not been able to locate another recording by Alexander Sitkovesky since he released this album almost a decade ago. Which, as I mentioned above, is unfortunate. He’s quite talented.

To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa