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Chalk and Cheese

By John Sidgwick

LONDON, 11 February 2000 - It really goes against the grain to say uncomplimentary things about a performance by a prodigiously gifted violinist, above all in the case of one who distils intelligence, charm and modesty in describing her aims as a musician. But the rendition of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto by Leila Josefowicz on this recording is so disturbing that one wonders how she or anybody connected with the Philips team could have allowed it to go out.

Such is Josefowicz's talent that she can do anything on the violin. Unfortunately, it is precisely "anything" that she does here. In the opening statement, all semblance of the beautiful tone that Josefowicz says she is keen to cultivate is ruined by sloppy fingering and phrasing and by her tendency to give a heavy thump to accented notes, particularly in the case of the first note of a triplet. Moreover, she slashes her way into the octaves that close the passage in a manner quite unworthy of a world-class instrumentalist.

All the defects apparent in this passage are a feature of the rest of the recording, and the Caliban-like stomping of the orchestra under Dutoit's baton does nothing to help. Just occasionally, in the slow movement for example, there are glimpses of the beautiful playing of which Josefowicz is capable, but almost immediately there is a return to unbalanced phrasing and exaggerated emphasis, so that one is left perplexed over these inexplicable outbursts of ugliness.

Josefowicz gives an agreeable account of Tchaikovsky's Valse-Scherzo, heralding the far better things to come in her performance of the Glazunov Concerto, a splendid work which deserves to be heard more often. This concerto is, shall we say, a sturdier piece than the Mendelssohn, and as an exponent of modern powerhouse violin playing, Josefowicz is far more at home with it. Also, most importantly, she is clearly at one with the type of musical line that is Glazunov's trademark. The cadenza of the slow movement has a real feeling of contemplation and the final allegro is full of fun and joy. Well worth hearing and certainly a valuable contribution to the recorded repertoire of violin literature.

Were it not that Josefowicz has a distinctive tone, a rarity these days, any listener would be led to wonder if the peformers of the two concertos were really one and the same person.

Leila Josefowicz

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847): Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893): Valse-scherzo, op. 34
Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936): Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 82
Leila Josefowicz, , violin
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Charles Dutoit, conductor
PHILIPS 464 059-2 (1999)

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