Tianwa Yang’s Enterprising Traversal of Two Neglected Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This recording of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s early (1924) Concerto Italiano purports to be a world premiere, and while you can never really tell these days, this is certainly the first time that I have seen the work on disc. It’s very enjoyable, and very Italian–in a good way. The thematic material has character, even in the long opening Allegro moderato e maestoso, while the central Arioso sets the seal on the music’s Italianate lyricism. Yang plays the work very confidently; she has no technical limitations at all, and she captures the warmth of those romantic tunes with unfailing aplomb. Certainly she deserves credit for learning a big, unfamiliar piece that she’ll probably never be asked to play in concert.

The Concerto Italiano also makes ideal sense as the coupling to the slightly better known Violin Concerto No. 2 “I Profeti” (“The Prophets”). Composed in 1931, it was taken up by Heifetz, no less, who made a stunning recording that has popped up in various incarnations (coupled to the Walton Concerto on Naxos Historical). The modern reference version has been Perlman’s hard to find outing with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic on EMI, in tandem with Ben-Haim’s Violin Concerto. The piece is interesting in that it really does sound like a (good) soundtrack to a Hollywood bible epic, although it predates both the genre and the composer’s American period by more than half a decade. If you like, say, Respighi’s exotic tone poems or Bloch’s Schelomo, then you’ll enjoy this well-wrought and colorful work similarly.

Again, Tianwa Yang plays with unflagging gusto and, in music that can turn kitschy, taste. Now is usually the time we get to say something condescending, like “She’s no Heifetz, or Perlman,” but the truth is that she doesn’t suffer at all from the comparison. She’s an excellent artist, one whose musicality and passion speak for themselves, and she can hold her own against anyone. The only caveat stems from the proficient but somewhat too polite accompaniments provided by the SWR ensemble under Pieter-Jelle de Boer, as well as the less than glittering sonics. Not bad, mind you, and probably as good as we have right to expect for such rare repertoire, but it could have been better still. If you don’t know this music, you should hear this.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concerto No. 2: Heifetz (RCA, Naxos Historical)

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