Koh Tchaikovsky Complete Works for Violin and OrchestraTchaikovsky

Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra

Jennifer Koh, violin

Odense Symphony Orchestra

Alexander Vedernikov, conductor

Cedille, 2016

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Tchaikovsky’s Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra

Jennifer Koh’s idea to make a recording centred on Tchaikovsky’s Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra is brilliant. It allows to have a quick but in-depth overview of the entire production of the great Russian composer’s concertante works for violin in the same place.

These works are not numerous. They are limited to some short pieces as the Sérénade mélancholique, the Valse-Scherzo and the Souvenir d’un lieu cher, and just one extensive work, the Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35. The small number of compositions was completed in just three years (between 1875 and 1878). This is a very short lapse of time if you think of that Tchaikovsky’s career expands over several decades. Moreover, the three short works share the same origin, as they are all conceived as inner movements of larger works. This is particularly clear for the Méditation from the Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which originally was a rejected slow movement from the Violin Concerto. And yet, these works are landmarks of this genre. The Concerto, in particular, is one of the most frequently performed violin concertos in the world and perhaps the most popular.

Jennifer Koh and Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Jennifer Koh has made a name for herself as a skilful and insightful violin virtuosa and the Tchaikovsky album reveals her qualities at their best. Even more, the quality of Tchaikovsky’s music, which is widely pensive and reflective in its character, blends harmoniously well with Koh’s personal taste. Throughout this recording, Koh finds instinctively the most stirring and poignant accents to convey moods of dramatic intensity. Her sound technique allows her to play with self-assurance and skilful eloquence. Moreover, the violinist is constantly and closely followed by the fine Odense Symphony Orchestra, led by Alexander Vedernikov.

Sérénade mélancholique, Valse-Scherzo, Souvenir d’un lieu cher

In Koh’s performance, the Sérénade mélancholique, with its simple and yet touching emotional honesty, becomes endlessly sad and just in few passages it seems to reveal its vague lightness, too far to be clearly evident. The solo violin achieves a plaintive and silky blend with the soft orchestra. On the contrary, the Valse-Scherzo reveals a wit and impertinent character. This is a moment of pause, of salon stylishness, where Koh plays with grace and decision.

At last, in the Souvenir d’un lieu cher Koh effectively alternates the feeling of nostalgia and the longing for something distant (in Méditation), to vibrancy and energy (Scherzo) and finally to a sweeter, less sad melancholy (Melodie), of the kind that usually accompanies the remembrance.

Violin Concerto

The Violin Concerto is of course the most demanding work of the present recording. Koh’s stylish communicativeness and the velvety, soft sound of the orchestra are equally significant features. The vivacity of the first movement (Allegro moderato) coincides in the orchestra and in the soloist. This features does not prevent Koh to describe long passages of soaring lyricism, which finds their climax in the cadenza at the end of the movement. The second movement (Canzonetta. Andante) is pensive and the vagueness of the orchestra is very well balanced by Koh’s graceful playing. The last movement (Allegro vivacissimo) reminds in part of the impertinence of the Valse-Scherzo. This movement is remarkable in particular for Koh’s verve and élan, which allow her to find new and original colours to describe the quite positive mood of this piece.

Conclusion

Jennifer Koh plays superbly Tchaikovsky’s Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra. Her graceful and skilful playing goes well with the Russian composer’s stirring and lush melodies. Koh gives prominence to the most delicate nuances of these works and performs them without inelegance or hurry. Furthermore, she takes all the time to develop her ideas and the result is that this recording appears as considered and attentively meditated, perfectly in tune with the gentle and mild character of the Russian composer.

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