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Myaskovsky - Vainberg: Violin Concertos

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Both Nikolay Myaskovsky (Miaskovsky) (1881-1950) and Mieczyslaw (Moisei) Vainberg (Weinberg) (1919-1996) have been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. Myaskovsky primarily is known for his numerous symphonies, many of which have been recorded twice now, written in a lush romantic style that goes down well for music-lovers who like Tchaikovsky or Glazunov. His only violin concerto, recorded here, has been recorded in an incandescent performance by its dedicatee, David Oistrakh, with an orchestra conducted by Alexander Gauk, and that recording is still available although in rather dated sound. This performance, features a violinist not heretofore known to me, Ilya Grubert, but he apparently is well-established in Russia, where he was a student of Leonid Kogan. He takes the concerto, particularly the 20-minute first movement--it lasts longer than the other two movements combined--at a somewhat more leisurely pace and frankly I think that serves the work well. It may lack Oistrakh's brio, but time is given for the arch-romantic harmonies to make their effect and for the symphonic argument--Myaskovsky was aiming for a symphonic form, rather like Brahms's or Beethoven's concerti--to be laid out clearly. Myaskovsky wrote memorable melodies; the achingly beautiful main theme of the first movement is given plenty of opportunity sink in and you'll undoubtedly find yourself humming it hours later. And when fireworks are called for, as in the final page of the first movement, Grubert can deliver them. Then comes the Adagio molto cantabile which is essentially a song for violin and orchestra. Over quiet string-dominated accompaniment, the violin sings a lyrical seemingly never-ending and never-repeating melody which is itself a miracle of melodic construction. The Finale is a bracing and optimistic rondo featuring folk elements and plenty of opportunity for the soloist to show off every bravura technique imaginable--double stops, harmonics, spiccati, pizzicati--a real romp.
Vainberg's name is sometimes (although not here) listed as 'Weinberg,' but as he was Polish and spelled his name in the Roman alphabet as 'Vainberg,' a back-transliteration from the Cyrillic Russian as 'Weinberg' is just plain wrong. He was a friend of both Myaskovsky and Shostakovich, and his music has much in common with the latter. Indeed it is probably helpful to think of his music as being rather like that of a kinder and gentler Shostakovich. It has much the same harmonic underpinning, but much less of the sardonic bite. He was a skilled craftsman and his music has fairly easy-to-grasp classical construction. The first movement of this four-movement concerto, for instance, is in a mostly straightforward sonata form. It bustles and scurries in a moto perpetuo until we get to the second theme which, interestingly, is not only more relaxed but partially accompanied by celesta and harp. II almost certainly was modeled after one of Shostakovich's passacaglia movements, the most prominent of which is that in his First Violin Concerto. As in that concerto, written only six years earlier, this set of variations rises to a climax featuring an intense violin cadenza. Unlike the Shostakovich, however, the cadenza leads not to a rumbustious finale but a dreamy Adagio. This is the most lyrical of the four movements; the violinist gets to sing his heart out over a fairly simple accompaniment. The concerto concludes with the Allegro risoluto which indeed begins with a brisk and resolute 4/4 march that soon veers toward vigorous dance rhythms, and all the while the violinist gets quite a virtuosic workout, as do the orchestral winds and brass. There are some calm sotto voce moments, including an extended passage for muted violin soloist, but the dance impulse returns and the whole thing aims for an exultant finish which at the last moment turns quietly thoughtful. The playing here by Ilya Grubert is impressive. I have not heard an earlier recording by his teacher, and the concerto's dedicatee, Leonid Kogan, but I am perfectly satisfied with this performance.

The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra is led by Dmitry Yablonsky whose increasing discography has impressed me. These are masterfully managed performances. I particularly want to praise the solo horn and bassoon in the Myaskovsky.


Born: 1962 in Moscow, Russia

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Cellist Dmitry Yablonsky is the son of concert pianist Oxana Yablonskaya. Yablonsky entered Moscow's Central School of Music at age six, and made his concert debut as a cellist at age nine. He immigrated with this family to the United States in 1977, studied at Curtis Institute of Music and at Juilliard, and ultimately took his degree from Yale University. This led to an extensive career as a concert virtuoso that took Yablonsky around the world. By chance, Yablonsky happened to be performing at...
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