The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Chalk-and-cheese concertos that receive equally winning performances
Musicians: Valeriy Sokolov (violin) Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich/David Zinman
Composer: Tchaikovsky, Bartók

This is an unusual pairing. The 25-year-old Ukrainian’s approach to Tchaikovsky is refreshingly straightforward, with none of the over-egging that it too often receives. What is immediately obvious is the brilliance and maturity of Sokolov’s playing. He has the sensuous tonal warmth to which this work responds so well when it isn’t over-indulged, and terrific flair. With David Zinman in zealous support he takes a long view of the work, building up momentum through Tchaikovsky’s great architectural blocks. After an affecting, simple account of the central Canzonetta, the finale is a powerful, controlled romp, its energy gathering to a tremendous finish.

Sokolov’s Bartók, too, has a firm trajectory. This is positive, purposeful playing, full of dynamism and focused tonal beauty. It is also, when called for, powerful: Sokolov at full stretch is impressive indeed, with steel to match his tenderness. The slow movement is delightful kaleidoscope of mood and character, deeply felt, passionate, simple, with a Mendelssohnian lightness in the central Allegro scherzando. The sinuous melodies of the finale are nicely shaped, and the virtuosic outbursts are dispatched with lusty ferocity. The violin sound is warm and close, with some occasionally audible breathing, but the orchestra sounds rather far behind.