This very welcome collection consists of musical gems for violin and orchestra, all of which are deserving of a higher priority than is often shown to them.
Take Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto (1904), which is full of lovely tunes and a delicious sense of fantasy. It’s a wonderful piece played with commitment and character by Efi Christodoulou, quite seductively at times, but not indulgently. Just occasionally some of her notes teeter on the wrong side of ‘true’ and come across as a little strained, but there is also a welcome spontaneity.
Noting that the recording venue is (to my ears) the problematical Lighthouse, I would have liked a more equable balance between soloist and orchestra for she is just a little close at times and some detail ‘behind her’ can be occluded. John Carewe and the Bournemouth Symphony are sympathetic and attentive accompanists (throughout and, indeed, his conducting is exemplary) and Christodoulou plays with a generous spirit and obvious affection for music that is so easy to love. It might have been an idea to give the cadenza a separate track, and the Finale needs to be a little more freewheeling than here; it is somewhat studied but greater impetus takes us into the joyous coda. I wouldn’t put this version above Rachel Barton Pine’s (Warner Classics, Serebrier conducting), nor should it be forgotten that Heifetz and Milstein cast a very long shadow with their classic accounts.
Similarly neglected, if relatively speaking, and also for no good reason, is Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, in the same key of A-minor. The balance here is better, Christodoulou more integrated with the expansively arranged orchestra, and although she can be a little effortful at times there is also an impressive fire and poise to her playing. She also has a soulful identification with the music that comes out most generously in the eloquent and confiding slow movement. In the outer ones, Carewe respectively ensures majesty, to which Christodoulou adds gypsy-passion and affecting lyricism, and exuberance, which finds the violinist in scorching mood, although the nippy tempo overrides Dvořák’s ma non troppo qualification and also his advice that the movement has a giocoso element. That said, this account has an impressive allure to it and serves the music very well, and I have enjoyed it several listens.
Between these superb Concertos comes the highlight of the disc, Sibelius’s Humoresques, music full of delights. Modest each piece may be in design but all six open up a very particular world that is unfailingly compelling and also inimitable. Christodoulou has this music in her soul, and if she cannot quite match Aaron Rosand’s recording in terms of richness of timbre, she plays with considerable largesse that will be a fine introduction to these characteristic vignettes.
Reservations, yes, but this is a happy tripling of pieces that have a ‘Cinderella’ status and yet all three works really do deserve to go the ball – here at chez Christodoulou.