Recording of the (Last) Week: Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto/Stravinsky: Les Noces

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Teodor Currentzis, MusicaAeterna, Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto/Stravinsky: Les Noces

There are too many recordings of classical music, and the last thing the world needs is another performance of a war horse like Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I’m not the only critic or composer (or even musician) to think that. Which is why this new album from Currentzis and his orchestra is so welcome. These performances are tremendous, not only incredibly well played but incredibly well thought. The combination of the material and the results, the extraordinary musicality and ensemble music-making, have this as the finest recording of any kind I’ve heard so far this year, in any style or genre.

MusicaAeterna is a period performance orchestra that Currentzis has shaped in detail while tucked away at the Perm Opera House. They’ve already produced two great recordings of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas—absolutely the highest recommendation for these, they are at the level of René Jacobs essential recordings—with Don Giovanni still to come. The play with style and finesse and, most important, the idea that they are making music rather than just following the score.

Here, they are surpassed by violinist Kopatchinskaja. Her playing is astounding for two simple reasons: her scintillating, acidic sound, and for her fidelity to the score. It sounds like she’s both teasing and interpolating the line, but she’s just being exact to the last degree with the rhythms, dynamics, and phrase markings. But it’s not stiff, her command is complete and so the feeling is natural and improvisatory. That, and the lean, colorful sound of the orchestra gives the music tremendous space and air, it breathes along with sounding. And the feeling is wrenching, intense—the hear-in-the-throat delicacy of the Canzonetta is like nothing I’ve heard.

This is all followed by Stravinsky’s masterpiece, his parsing of the traditional Russian wedding ceremony through the structures and forms of neo-classicism and suprematist painting. Les Noces has a fortunate recording legacy, with many exceptional, and exceptionally incisive, recordings to chose from—not counting the composer’s own. This is as good as they get, a first among equals. The chorus is the star, singing with a very non-classical idea of inflection, color, and phrasing, while sticking strictly to the notes and rhythms, and the soloists are great, especially tenor Stanislav Leontieff, who sounds both drunk and crazed while not missing a pitch. And the level of tension throughout is palpable.

Les Noces is a remarkable work, as transparent about what may be seen as primitive savagery as Le Sacre, as structurally refined as anything else Stravinsky wrote, and with some of his most remarkable rhythms and orchestration.

Whatever your musical persuasion or the extent of your library, get this recording. You will set it on endless repeat.

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