SHCHEDRIN:  Concerto Cantabile. STRAVINSKY:  Violin Concerto in D.  TCHAIKOVSKY:  SÈrÈnade mÈlancolique, Op. 26.
Maxim Vengerov, violinist/London Symphony Orch/Mstislav Rostropovich, cond.

EMI CLASSICS 56966  (F) (DDD)  TT:  60:51 


Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932) first came to the attention of record collectors with his brilliant Concerto for Orchestra ("Naughty Limericks") composed in 1963  followed in 1968 by his extraordinary arrangement for strings and percussion of music from Bizet's Carmen, both superbly recorded by Rozhdestvensky. Shchedrin also has to his credit concertos for various instruments including five for piano, several symphonies and two ballets, Anna Karenina and The Seagull.  His most recent work is this Concerto Cantabile written for and dedicated to Maxim Vengerov who gave the  premiere in July 1998. The composer writes of the 'soul' of the notes, mentioning that in the last of the three movements of this 28-minute work the solo violin "should come to resemble that of a shepherd's pipe," a memory from the composer's Russian childhood. Shchedrin, so imaginative and daring in many of his previous works, here seems to have run out of inspiration. The paucity of worthy ideas is ever-apparent, as the soloist seemingly doodles extensively, with a plink, plank and plunk here and there.  As for the "shepherd's pipe," forget it. The image tantalizes, but it never really develops. We can assume the performance is totally authoritative. Surely it is very well performed, with engineers placing the soloist very close.

After the banal Shchedrin, Stravinsky's spiky concerto is pure balm, again with the soloist right out front. Vengerov's playing is exemplary and he surely has more substance to work with here than  Shchedrin's pallid note-spinning. If you are interested in the Stravinsky,  Kyung-Wha Chung's recording  with Previn and the London Symphony is just one of several more attractive than this release, particularly as it also contains both Prokofiev concertos—at bargain price. Tchaikovsky's 10-minute serenade seems to have been an afterthought just to make the CD more attractive from the standpoint of playing time. However, even with it, we have just a tad more than an hour of playing time. Admirers of Vengerov may wish to have this.  It's difficult to imagine others finding it of interest..

R.E.B. (June 2000)