PROKOFIEV: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Sonata in D for Solo Violin / Vadim Gluzman, violinist; Estonian National Symphony Orch., Neeme Järvi, cond. / Bis 2142 (SACD)
What a wonderfully rarefied disc this is! And I mean that in both the literal and the figurative sense. Vadim Guzman, a Ukranian-Israeli violinist whom I previously had not heard, gives here performances to be proud of. The Prokofiev Concerti are remarkably tricky—so much so, in fact, that sometimes even the most famous of names miss the mark with them. Jascha Heifetz did not in his landmark recording of the Second Concerto under Serge Koussevitzky, but alas, the conductor wasn’t really very comfortable with Prokofiev’s orchestral idiom and so the accompaniment is a bit klunky compared to the solo playing. Prior to hearing this disc, my favorite versions of these two concertos were Sitkovetsky with Colin Davis and Cho-Liang Lin with Esa-Pekka Salonen (the second being, to my mind. the better pairing of talents whereas Sitkovetsky gave more of himself with Davis), but Gluzman simply wipes their memories away from my mind.
Why? Certainly not in technical finish or polish, although he has that and to spare. No, Gluzman simply sounds as if he OWNS these concertos, so much so that I couldn’t wait to hear the next phrase, and the next, and the one after that. The sheer joie-de-vivre he brings to the music is so infectious that it even inspires the Estonian National Symphony to give a really splendid reading of the orchestral score. Of course, with Neeme Järvi—whom I will henceforth refer to as “Pop Järvi” to distinguish him from his conductor-sons, the rather prosaic Paavo and the dynamic Kristjan—at the helm, it’s difficult to repress the rhythmic spring of the music or its sense of structure, both of which he has been achieving for decades, but we must give credit where credit is due and the Estonians simply play their hearts out.
The sound is clean, clear, and just a tad glassy, but no glassiness of sound can mask the warmth of Gluzman’s tone. He uses a fast, light vibrato, which he ever-so-slightly widens here and there to add expression to the music, and his technique is so good that one scarcely hears it as “technique” at all. Compared to a violinist like, say, Erick Friedman, a marvelous player but one with whom you were ever aware of the mechanics of his sound, Gluzman simply glides through this music. This is not, however, to suggest that Gluzman is superficial; far from it. He sings and soars through every note and phrase, but does so in a way that sounds completely organic and lacking in artifice, as if he were singing these concertos through his instrument.
I was particularly struck by the sweetness and exquisitely perfect pitch of his upper range, which is of course put to the test ever and anon in these works…listen to the last movement of the first or the second movement of the second, which I’ve always considered to be one of the most haunting melodies ever written. Moreover, in those passages where Gluzman is called upon to play with vigor, his tone never tightens up or coarsens, a testament to his perfect bow control. He reminds me a bit of Gil Shaham, whose work I also admire for many of the same reasons, but with a dash of Yehudi Menuhin for that affecting sweet tone that never cloys or sounds precious.
For a small snippet of why I loved these performances, listen to the passage between 3:00 and 3:10 in the first movement of the second concerto, where Gluzman and Järvi are in perfect synchronization in terms of rhythm and articulation. It almost sounds as if the orchestra has been trained to “move with” the violin soloist the way a great jazz orchestra moves with a soloist. I love that kind of tight sound, when you can achieve it, and these artists certainly do so here.
Happily, Gluzman’s perfect identification with his material extends to the Solo Violin Sonata, a Prokofiev work I was not previously familiar with (I know the sonatas with piano accompaniment very well, however). Someone once told me that all solo violin and cello sonatas owe something to the pioneering works of J.S. Bach, and that may be true, but here I was almost entirely focused on the direction of the musical line and its development more than the use of the instrument to “accompany” itself as the Bach works do. Perhaps this is because Gluzman is such a lyrical player that he makes the music continually “sing,” but in any case I found myself so caught up in the listening experience that my critical faculties were sent out of the room to go and get me a pizza. I wanted to be left alone to simply soak this music and its performance up!
The reader must sense by now that I had a very hard time trying to write about these performances. This generally happens when they are either simply awful or excellent beyond words, and in this case the latter certainly applies. You simply must hear this recording for yourself. I believe it will blow you away as it did me.
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley