Tonight and tomorrow, the excellent violinist Vadim Gluzman is appearing with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on the violin — the Stradivarius ex Leopold Auer — for which it was written. Unfortunately I can’t be there, but I took the opportunity to review Gluzman’s latest CD, of the Bruch concerto, for this Sunday’s paper to mark the occasion. Here, the review:
Bruch Violin Concerto — Romance: Vadim Gluzman
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra — Andrew Litton [Bis SACD 1852]
In the 19th century, classical music was already starting to define itself in terms of the the past, with composers measuring themselves against the greats who had gone before them. Max Bruch epitomized this brand of conservatism: He abhorred newfangled compositional developments (like Wagner’s) and wanted to glorify the grand tradition. His most popular work, the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1866), hearkened back to Mendelssohn’s, written two decades earlier; and though Bruch died in 1920, his later works didn’t substantially vary in style — something demonstrated on the violinist Vadim Gluzman’s latest CD, which pairs it with the Romance in F and a string quintet written when the composer was 80 and that was not performed until after his death.
The contrast is refreshing. It’s also refreshing to hear such a strong performance of an already oft-recorded concerto. Gluzman, 37, is often branded as of the Russian school, less for his actual provenance (born in the Ukraine, raised in Riga and Israel, he now lives in New York) than for the big, golden, romantically singing tone he gets from his Stradivarius. But if the sound has the generosity associated with old-style performance, it has none of its stereotypical excess: This is a thoughtful reading that is almost insouciant about its outrageous beauty. Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic show their own strengths as accompanists; Litton is very good at big energetic music, and the orchestra (where he’s been music director since 2005) sounds great.
It’s not quite fair to say that the two later pieces show no stylistic development; both have the autumnal quality associated with late work. This may also derive from their relentless hold on a bygone era (the quintet dates from 1918, when its full-bodied melodies and thick creamy chords hardly marked it as part of the musical vanguard). If neither has quite the vitality of the concerto, they both showcase the violin’s singing quality that Bruch so prized, and even the quintet has concerto-like features, particularly in the first movement when the other strings — strong players all — effectively become a backup group for Gluzman’s shining solo line.
Gluzman’s integrity and lack of flashiness for its own sake may be a reason that, though he’s acknowledged as one of today’s top violinists, he isn’t even better known. They’re also a reason why he should be. For those who can’t make the Annapolis performances, this CD offers a taste of what you’re missing.