The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Benjamin Schmid (violin) Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Raiskin (conductor)
Composer: Wieniawski, Szymanowski, Lutoslawski
Benjamin Schmid is never less than highly impressive in this chronologically arranged programme, featuring three celebrated Polish works for violin. Yet one senses a special identification with the Szymanowski, not just from the soloist but the orchestra and conductor too. Indeed, such is the supreme confidence and radiant intensity of this performance that it sounds for all the world like one of Heifetz’s West Coast recordings from the 1950s. Of course Heifetz didn’t record either of the Szymanowski concertos (we do have ‘Roxana’s Song’ from King Roger), but such is the extraordinary proximity of Schmid’s leonine, brilliant sound and exultant phrasing to Heifetz’s own, coupled with the Los Angeles Philharmonic-like thrust of the Wroclaw orchestra (complete with gloriously refulgent horns), that the correspondences are quite uncanny. Even bearing in mind classic accounts from Szeryng (Philips) and Zehetmair (EMI), this is an exceptional reading.
Perlman (his earlier EMI account with Ozawa), Rabin (again EMI) and Shaham (DG) tend to dominate a crowded field in the Wieniawski D minor Concerto. Here Schmid’s Milsteinesque purity of line and technical suavity (the rondo finale’s famous dancing spiccato episode is effortlessly dispatched) may lack the rich tonal opulence of the aforementioned, yet his Ferras-like, aristocratic finesse constantly beguiles the senses. It is this aspect of Schmid’s artistry that comes to the fore in Chain 2, a work written for, premiered and recorded by Anne-Sophie Mutter, whose haunting, deeply introspective Deutsche Grammophon reading is trumped here by Schmid’s heartfelt lyricism. An outstanding disc, sensitively engineered – although some might prefer the soloist to loom larger in the aural spectrum.