Neither too nationalist nor too internationalist, this 1995 recording of Béla Bartók's two violin concertos featuring Thomas Zehetmair with Ivan Fischer leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra is just right. Austrian-born Zehetmair has a fabulous technique, a warm but focused tone, and lively sense of rhythm, all of which make him an ideal Bartók player. His interpretations are less about showing off then about digging in, and his performances are more about the music than they are about the musician. Hungarian conductor Fischer and his Hungarian orchestra are not only up for the music in a technical sense, they are also down with the music in an emotional sense, and their accompaniments ground Zehetmair's coolly flamboyant performances. Captured in white-hot sound that is almost too vivid for its own good, these performances deserve to stand among the finest ever recorded.
Admirers of Sir Yehudi Menuhin will be pleased to have this compilation of his early stereo recordings of the major violin concertos. I have always enjoyed his version of the Bach Double Concerto with Christian Ferras; it rightly dominated the catalogue throughout the 1960s, and the spirited baroque vitality of the performance, plus a beautifully judged central Largo, give great satisfaction. Moreover, it demonstrates what a good sound balance Peter Andry and Neville Boyling could achieve in London's Kingsway Hall in 1959.
The essence of a concerto is the contrast and combination of a solo instrument with a larger instrumental ensemble. Having developed out of the Baroque concept of concerto grosso, the concerto genre was fully established in the eighteenth century, and many works dating from this period are still a key part of the repertoire today. The opportunity for virtuosic display from the soloist has resulted in the concerto becoming a vital musical force on the concert platform.
Breathtaking virtuosity flows seamlessly with expansive lyrical passages and fiendish passagework in this commanding performance by Arabella Steinbacher of the restless and technically demanding violin concertos of Britten and Hindemith in this new release from PENTATONE, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.
If the idea of a marginally more advanced Mendelssohn or a slightly more coherent Liszt sounds appealing, try Joseph Joachim Raff. In this disc of his two violin concertos coupled with two shorter works for violin and orchestra, Raff writes for the soloist in an effervescent style that clearly has its origins in Mendelssohn's elfin manner.
This has the look of a career-making recording from Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti, putting her up against difficult repertory that diverges from the crowd-pleasing fare that formed the basis of her career up to this album. It would have been hard to predict just how well she pulls off her task here; few could have heard the profound interpreter of Russian music in the Italia and Silver Violin collections from earlier in the 2010s. The Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99, is an emotionally thorny work in five movements anchored by a tense passacaglia in the middle. The composer withheld it from publication during the period of renewed Stalinist repression in the late 1940s. It was premiered in 1955 by David Oistrakh, and in endurance and elevated tone even if not quite in lyrical grandeur, Benedetti brings that master to mind. Sample the Stravinskian "Burlesque" finale for a sense of how Benedetti gets outside herself here. The Glazunov Violin Concerto, Op. 82, is a more stable work, rooted in pre-WWI conservatory traditions, and Benedetti's reading is nothing short of letter-perfect.