Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (XRCD review)

Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Itzhak Perlman, violin; Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. ARC ARCXRCD805, remastered.

Because the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is one of the most-popular violin concertos ever written, maybe the most popular, practically every major violinist in the world has recorded it. So, there is a huge selection of recordings of it in the catalogue, most of them pretty good. Still, I have always found Itzhak Perlman's 1972 recording with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra as good as any and better than most. Now, we find it in a modern audiophile remastering, making it better than ever. At least, for those with deep pockets.

German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) premiered his Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 in 1845, and it would be his final large orchestral work. Audiences pretty much loved it at the time, and it has continued to be one of the staples of the violin repertoire ever since.

Because the Mendelssohn concerto is "nobly poised between romantic and classic" as W.A. Chislett writes in a booklet note, that's the way Perlman plays it, with an expressive romantic flair and a classic restraint and refinement. And unlike many competing versions on record, the soloist and the orchestra are on equal terms, neither actually dominating the other. Previn is a fine interpreter of Mendelssohn, anyway, and the LSO provide a warm, illuminating, and thoroughly captivating accompaniment for Perlman. Yes, you will find more vigorous accounts of the music, more vivacious ones, and more sweetly flowing ones, but you will be hard pressed to find one that sounds more totally attuned to the charms of Mendelssohn. It simply sounds "right," as fresh and scintillating as the day Perlman and his fellow players recorded it.

Itzhak Perlman
As a coupling, Perlman chose to do the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by German composer and conductor Max Bruch (1838-1920). Bruch premiered a revised version in 1867, and it, too, like the Mendelssohn, has become a staple of the violin repertoire. Perlman and Previn play it in a traditional manner, with no exaggerated tempos, pauses, or contrasts. Perlman's playing is engaging, too, nuanced yet lively, giving the music all the enchantment and vivacity it needs. Moreover, the LSO were in peak form, providing Perlman a strong accompaniment.

The Bruch has a curious first movement, a Vorspiel (or Prelude) leading directly to the second movement. This Vorspiel is like a slow march, with some ornamental flourishes along the way. The second-movement is an Adagio, the heart of the work with its beautiful melodies, broadly sweeping themes, and graceful orchestral accompaniment. The piece ends with a Finale that begins quietly until the violin opens up with a vivacious theme in the form of a dance, which along with its lyricism reminds us of its Romantic origins, culminating in a grand climax. Anyway, as I say, Perlman, Previn, and the LSO do it up as well as anyone.

EMI producer Suvi Raj Grubb and engineer Robert Grooch recorded the concertos at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, in November 1972. Tohru Kotetsu remastered the original tapes at the JVC Mastering Center, Japan, for the Associated Recordings Company (ARC). The JVC team used meticulous XRCD24/K2 technology to assure the finest quality reproduction currently available for CD playback.

I had on hand for comparison another remastering of the same recording, this one also from Japan (Toshiba-EMI), though not in the XRCD format. The older Toshiba remaster seemed to me at the time marginally better, clearer and cleaner, than the regular EMI (currently Warner) product. Now, the JVC/ARC XRCD24 production is even clearer and cleaner than the older Japanese remastering, albeit at substantially higher cost. Is it for everyone? Of course not. It's for audiophiles who already love this particular recording and want the very best-sounding version of it. To that end, the JVC/ARC XRCD24 fills the bill.

Compared to the Toshiba-EMI product, the JVC/ARC disc sounds tighter, better defined, slightly more detailed, stronger, smoother, and fuller. Are the differences major? No, they're small but noticeable, at least in side-by-side comparison. Are they worth the extra money? That's up to the individual, not for me to decide. In any case, the sound in both versions revealed excellent balance, a superb reproduction of the soloist, well centered and not too far in front of the orchestra, with good response at both ends of the frequency spectrum. It's a fine recording made better by excellent processing.

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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