Good Grief. Another Tchaikovsky already.

Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D Major is the tool that many classical music lovers use to evaluate violinists. If he or she does the Tchiakovsky to your liking you will probably like recordings by the same artist of other less familiar pieces. Over the years I have acquired a number of recordings. My favorite is Russian David Oistrach, recorded in 1954...mono, but good mono. His absolute mastery and power is inspiring so that his occasional technical defects are of no consequence. A Korean woman, Kyung Wha Chung plays in similar style with fewer errors on a stereo recording. Close but not quite there. Itzhak Perlman, in his youth, gave it a good shot.

But now I have found a new recording that is poles apart from Oistrach, but which I find striking. I recommend Sony Classical SH 94822, a SACD, Joshua Bell, with the Berlin Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. This was recorded barely a year ago, and benefits from excellent recording technology. But it is the performance, recorded during a concert, that makes it worth buying this disc no matter how many other Tchaikovskys you have filed away. The interpretation is lyrical, which is dangerous because it could come out like mush, but Bell pulls it off to perfection. The lyrical approach is definitely not a cover for technical weakness, as is sometimes the case. IMHO, his performance provides new insights which, for an old warhorse like the Tchaikovsky is hard to do.

Others may not like the interpretation, but it sure is different, and well worth a listen.
Thanks for the tip, Eldartford. While I like Bell's playing, I admit I said "What, another Tchaikovsky?" when I saw it available as an SACD. Nice to see there's something special to make it worth adding to the collection.
Your tag line sez it all. That was my reaction when I saw the reviews. Thanks for the description. BTW I agree with you about Chung, totally! Try her Bruch if you haven't already (which I imagine you have).
Check out Bell's web Of particular interest is the lengthy writeup about the history of the Strad he plays.
I agree with the Chung also.

I heard Bell play the Brahms live in concert followed soon after by Hillary Hahn (Brahms also). It was no contest. Bell was an artist in his prime; Hahn sounded like a competent concert-master filling in (OK, nothing special).

Will be hearing Bell play the "Red Violin" concerto (again) this spring with Marin Allsop conducting.
I can add a little tangential flavor to that, as I was involved in the sale of his old violin. These rare violins always come with papers that trace their history, or are involved in their history. The Strad he used to play, the "Tom Taylor", had an interesting story associated with it. Seems it was upstairs in a house where a woman was giving a vocal recital when the house caught fire. The owner of the Strad raced through the panic-stricken guests and ignored the soloist to save the violin (no word on the vocalist's fate in the papers I saw).

By the way, as audiophiles, we can relate to this--Bell sold his old Strad to "upgrade" to the Strad he has now. His mother was handling the sale, and remarked to me that she couldn't understand why he was doing the sale, the violin he had was perfectly fine and sounded great (have we heard that from our significant others when we upgraded our rigs?). Seems, though, that his new Strad has a bit more power and volume for playing in larger concert halls, where his old Strad was more suited to chamber music and smaller venues, so the upgrade did make sense from a touring concert violinist's point of view.

By the way, Newbee, couldn't agree with you more about Chung's Bruch, her versions are among my favorites.
My favorite Strad story is Rostropovich's cello. It has a dent on the side from Napoleon Bonaparte kicking it.

Probably the only time that damage has added value to a musical instrument.
Sugarbrie...Agree about Hillary Hahn. Quite apart from the less than spectacular performance I find the Multichannel mix to be aweful. With a center channel to work with they cut poor Hillary in half and put the pieces in Left and Right, with almost nothing in the center channel. How this disc won a prize escapes me.

My violin has a small burnt spot at the edge of the top, where I set it down too close to a candle. Will this increase its value?
Eldartford--afraid not, unless it's already a rare Strad or Del Gesu and you can make up a more exciting story about the burnt spot.

Agree with you both about Hahn, I would prefer to think it's a matter of her maturing as an artist. She certainly has talent and virtuosity, but on most of her recorded performances (and the one performance I heard her play this season) there seems to be a fire or soul, a feeling for the music, that's not quite developed yet. Perhaps it will come with time.
Speaking of Oistrakh. My relatively recent find is Brahms Violin Concerto, played by David Oistrakh and conducted by Otto Klemperer. All on MINT (in/out) Angel MONO!
Bell's earlier version of the Tchaikovsky concerto, with Ashkenazy conducting the Cleveland Orchestra (Decca/London), is also very fine. It was recorded in Cleveland in 1988 (by outstanding Decca/London recording engineer Colin Moorfoot) and boasts superb sound as well. By the way, it seems to me that any discussion of great versions of the Tchaikovsky concerto ought to begin with Heifetz. One man's opinion. Cheers.
Texasdave...It would be interesting to compare his approach in 1988 with today. I think I must have a Heifetz somewhere. I will dig it out and listen.
Hi TexasDave,
As a youth all I had was the Nathan Milstein version from my father's collection - or a borrowed copy of Stern from the library.
When later I heard Heifetz, I realized just how many doublestops those two journeyman had scratched out.
Eldartford, what '88 performance of Heifetz are you referring to? Mine is RCA-CSO-Reiner (circa '59 to '62 - think).
Heifetz made two studio recordings of the Tchaikovsky concerto. The first was in 1937 with Barbirolli and the London Philharmonic. The second was in 1957 with Reiner and the Chicago SO (RCA Living Stereo). The first one is the greater performance.