Prokofiev Violin Concerto -

It's impossible not to admire this latest release from Joseph Swensen and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The Classical Symphony is marvelous: exceptionally paced, exquisitely phrased by the violins in the slow movement, effervescent in the finale, texturally pellucid, with characterful wind playing. In a word, it's perfect. The Violin Concerto thrills me less as a piece, but not this performance, which in its shaping and poise reminds me of Milstein's, only with much better playing and sonics. Despite its popularity, the work isn't easy to sustain, with its two long, slow opening movements in a row. Swensen's light touch and purity of tone make light of any interpretive difficulties, and he digs into the finale with real gusto. My own preferences favor Heifetz in this work, if only because he knocks a couple of minutes off everyone else's timings in the first and second movements - but from a purely technical and expressive point of view this version is second to none. As a bonus, Swensen's lovely arrangements for violin and strings of the Five Melodies are most welcome, though there would have been room for the First Violin Concerto as well. The sonics, whether in stereo or SACD multichannel format, are as fine as the performances. Really, this is exceptional by any standard.

04 July 2005