Takako Nishizaki Plays Mendelssohn And Tchaikovsky
There is some music that every lover of classical music needs to know. The violin concertos of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky are included in this category, together with the violin concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. This CD offers an opportunity to get to know these two great works, well-played at a budget price. I am highly partial to budget recordings. They offer an opportunity to explore unfamiliar music and new artists. I learned much about music from listening to LPs on Vox and similar budget labels, and Naxos has expanded upon budget recordings to an extent I never thought possible.
Takako Nishizaki is a gifted violinist, and she has recorded extensively in repertoire familiar and unfamiliar. She is perhaps best known for her recording of the Beethoven violin sonatas with pianist Jeno Jando. Her orchestral partner on this CD is the Slovak Philharmonic conducted by Kenneth Jean.
The Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos have radically different characters. The Mendelssohn is the most introspective and lyrical of the great four and is also the most frequently played. The great violinist Joseph Joachim referred to it aptly as the "heart's jewel". It has a melodic opening movement full of feeling and features a cadenza placed after the development rather than at the end of the movement. The second movement consists of a glowing melody with a minor-key interlude and the third movement is a delightfully light scherzo. The work is an interconnected whole with remarkable transition passages between the first and the second and the second and the third movements. The work has a quiet appeal and makes no attempt to overwhelm the listener with fireworks.
The Tchaikovsky concerto is a work of bravura, fireworks, and flamboyance. It offers a pair of intense melodies in the opening movement together with dazzling bridge passages for the soloist demanding a showy technique. The second movement is quiet and prayer-like while the finale returns to the virtuoso style in the form of a Russian dance. It was this third movement that so distressed the Vienese musical critic, Eduard Hanslick who wrote a famously scathing review. Time has proven Hanslick mistaken.
I generally enjoyed the performances on this CD. I preferred Nishizakai's Mendelssohn. I thought her performance was done with feeling, yet with restraint, and with a somewhat angular tone. In the Tchaikovsky concerto, the element of bravura and force is essential. I missed some of that in Nishizaki's reading. The playing was lovely but lacked drive and fire in the first movement. Perhaps that was due in part to the slow tempo taken for the first movement, as noted by other reviewers of this CD. In any event, to me the performance did not capture entirely the special character of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto.
I think a new listener to these concertos would enjoy and get a great deal from these performances. It is a fine, more than adequate recording. But there are many attractive alternatives to be considered, with many versions of both these concertos available, including reissues, at only a slightly higher price than this CD. Thus, I think this CD will have the greatest appeal to listeners who already know these concertos well and who want to hear a new reading of two endlessly rewarding works of music.