Esther Yoo proves to be a charismatic interpreter of these perennially favourite Violin Concertos. The Glazunov is always welcome; it has many delights that are here made ravishing through affection and skill. Yoo commands a rich tone that can be pared to something silver-fine and her dynamic range is wide while her technique is excellent and music-serving. She is also well accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra and a very supportive Vladimir Ashkenazy who has this music – fantastical and lyrical – in his veins. Clearly violinist and conductor are of one mind, and he makes sure that the beguiling orchestration is beautifully lucid, while she makes a handsome job of the extended cadenza. The Finale, without losing impetus, is given time to breathe and conjure images.
Ashkenazy also has a strong allegiance to the music of Sibelius and this experience shines through in this winning reading of the Finn’s much-played Violin Concerto, emerging fresh and vividly communicative. From the mysterious opening, it’s apparent that this is going to be a something-special performance. Such promise is not denied. Yoo is very expressive throughout, she is as intensely poised and then as fiery as you like, and her full timbre in high-lying passages is notable. It’s a smouldering account, biding its time to full emotional release, first in the unstintingly sympathetic orchestra and then in a full-on cadenza, Yoo unfazed by its technical hurdles. The slow movement flows in a heartfelt way and avoids being maudlin, and – this is the moment that puts this version in the top bracket – the tempo for the Finale is suitably moderate (Sibelius’s ma non tanto is ideally observed), perfect in fact. Rather than being showily rushed through (as is common) here are strong, dancing rhythms and a real sense of purpose, as well as orchestral detail thrown into relief that can be overlooked.
The remaining works, one each by the chosen composers, include the sweetly seductive high-romance Raymonda ‘Adagio’ and Sibelius’s Suite (1929), among his final souvenirs (for all that he had a long life still to achieve) which was not known until after his death. The three movements are miniatures and while each may be a cutting from a master’s greater gifts there is much to enjoy in the music’s scenic and seasonal descriptions.
The recording is excellent, naturally balanced, the orchestra sharing the limelight, Yoo establishing herself through personality rather than being highlighted. All in all, this is a very distinguished release.