The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Ilya Gringolts (violin) BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov (conductor)
Composer: Arensky, Taneyev

Ilya Gringolts plays the Arensky Concerto as though it is a blazing masterpiece. In a recording in which he is backed to the hilt by Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and immaculately engineered by Simon Eadon and Will Brown, the listener is buoyed aloft on the tide of Arensky’s inspiration in a way that even Sergei Stadler (Manchester Classical Gallery, 1986) and Alexander Trostiansky (Chandos, 1997) cannot quite equal – Aaron Rosand’s glorious 1973 account for Vox is also well worth tracking down. In the wrong hands, Arensky can sound earnestly reliable rather than truly inspired, yet Gringolts ensures that every note rings true as part of a compelling emotional journey, especially during the pedal-pointed secondary material, which here activates the goose-flesh on contact.

It is somewhat ironic that despite being a notable composer in his own right, Taneyev is principally remembered today for completing Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto and as the dedicatee of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. Unlike Arensky and Mussorgsky, whose wildest imaginings were fuelled by alcohol, the abstemious Taneyev was a solid musical architect who worked methodically within well-tried and tested parameters. For many years, the five-movement Suite maintained a place on the outer fringes of the repertoire, thanks largely to David Oistrakh’s classic 1955 EMI recording, while subsequent accounts by Jaakko Kuusisto (Ondine, 2000) and Lydia Mordkovitch (Chandos, 2008) relish the score’s Romantic opulence to telling effect. In terms of his tonal litheness and majestic precision, Gringolts lies closest to Oistrakh, although his relatively small-scale sound possesses a quicksilver purity that is uniquely beguiling.