Prokofiev wrote two superb violin concertos, highlighted here in outstanding performances by Georgian superstar violinist Lisa Batiashvili. I'm not sure whose idea it was, soloist, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin or the bright sparks at DG, but they added three highly musical but aimless fillers and created a 'concept album', Visions of Prokofiev.
So, let's get the fillers out of the way. The three 'hits' plucked from Prokofiev's' ballets and opera are well played and expertly recorded, but are adrift from any musical connections. You'll enjoy them as an aperitif or digestif before, in between or after the two main courses, the concertos.
It seems the much travelled and oft recorded Nézet-Séguin touches gold any time the baton comes down (I heard him recently with his Philly band at Carnegie in an unconventional program featuring Schumann 2. It was magnificent, and to a full house). I was not flowery with the praise for his latest Mozart opera on DG with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (founded 1981), much preferring his Schumann symphony cycle with this gypsy-like band. It's a fine group, still seating many of its original members from the 1976-founded European Community Youth Orchestra (we're having so much fun, we want it to go on and on). Here, it sounds like a very good accompanist, with excellent ensemble and lovely solo contributions.
Batiashvili is a star performer. She looks and sounds like a star. There's a reason she's plastered on every CD cover, DG promo galleries, and features prominently on social media (from her Instagram, it seems she's never a met a selfie she didn't like). But even if marketed with a non-Vogue cover, the musical delights in her recordings would sell them. She's brilliant.
On to Prokofiev. His Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 was premiered in 1923, the Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 twelve years later in 1935. The 2nd was considerably more popular initially (the 1st Concerto's debut Parisian audience felt it too 'romantic', the 2nd Concerto's debut Madrid audience fell over itself with praise). Soon after, however, they both became staples of the repertoire.
Both concertos feature the fully-formed style of Prokofiev—sardonic wit, powerful expression and highly romantic melodies with beautiful, chromatic harmony. They offer hyper expression and call for the utmost virtuosity from a soloist. Batiashvili has the temperament and the flawless technique and intonation to make both concertos real successes. These are among the best recorded performances you will find and they make an easy recommendation.
The recording is interesting. Soloist is set well in front of the orchestra, but she is blended well. The bass drum features in the 2nd Concerto and the Romeo and Juliet bon bon. Played quietly or full on, it is beautifully recorded. I think audiophiles will find discovery here, especially for audio show demonstrations. Plain old music lovers will buy it just for the sensational fiddling. Highly recommended.
VISIONS OF PROKOFIEV
Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Int. Release 02 Feb. 2018
0289 479 8529 7