MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in D minor PANUFNIK: Violin Concerto. TAKEMITSU: Nostalgia. BACH: Double Violin Concerto in D minor.
Alexander Sitkovetsky, violinist; New European Strings Chamber Orch/Dmitry Sitkovetsky, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 57440 (F) (DDD) TT: 75:04

A winner, issued with cover and rear-fold photos as well as program-book art that could help sell it the way Sony markets Joshua Bell. Young Sitkovestky, either 20 or 21 (EMI is chary about specifics), became a protégé of Yehudi Menuhin in 1990 after studying with his uncle Dmitry (who conducts this disc), Maxim Vengerov and Zvi Zeitlin. The progam comprises an homage to Menuhin, who discovered Mendelssohn’s youthful D-minor Concerto in the family archives, purchased it in 1952, and made the first recording. He commissioned both the violin concerto of Andrzej Panufnik in 1972 and Toru Takemitsu’s Nostaglia (in memory of the Russian film director Andrey Tarkovsky) in 1987. And as a teenager, Lord Menuhin recorded the Bach Double Concerto with Georges Enescu at Paris in 1932 – a between-wars classic.

Young Sitkovetsky made his disc debut at 17 in a collection of Russian recital pieces that EMI sold as “Sasha,” accompanied by his mother Olga. He has aged handsomely without self- consciousness, and plays in the grand Russian manner with a full, rich tone, bright on top, yet with gentle introspection when the music wants it. There seems no limit on his technique, and he plays the outer movements of Bach with a frisson that uncle Dmitry answers musically if not in kind. The boy is master of the man, although uncle conducts the string orchestra he founded in 1990 commandingly and, where fitting, with genuine brio.

The Mendelssohn concerto (not the ubiquitous E minor of 1844) was written at age 13, two years before the “official” First Symphony, while completing studies in baroque practice with a baker’s dozen unnumbered symphonies. It is youthful, not yet individualized, but nonetheless uncommon for a youth of his years. The Sitkovetskys don’t overplay, which is a big plus. The Panufnik is based on three-note cells in all three movements, but the heart of it is an 8-minute Adagio with alternating major and minor thirds in a cantilena that touches the heart. So does Takemitsu’s 15- minute memorial piece, which takes its title from a Tarkovsky film the composer especially admired; while a mature work in every respect, it borrows poignantly from his first work for orchestra, Requiem for Strings, composed in 1955.
The sound on this disc from Henry Wood Hall, London, is a Max Wilcox production, pristinely so in every department, from producing to co-engineering to co-editing, and what a boon to find him at the top of his storied form. As a producer at RCA he made all of Artur Rubinstein’s Red Seal recordings from 1958 until the pianist’s retirement in 1974, whereupon Wilcox became an independent disc and video producer (all, for example, of Unitel Munich’s Chicago Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra telecasts from 1976 to 1981). Bravo, EMI!

A few words in closing about Sasha Sitkovetzky’s genealogy – a mass of confusion that Google helped to sort out. His great-uncle was the celebrated violinist Yulian, who married pianist Bella Davidovich but died at the age of 32. Dmitry was their son; when he fled the USSR in 1977 his mother was blacklisted until she could join him in the US a year later. Sasha Sitkovetsky is the grandson of Yulian’s brother; thus, Davidovich is his great-aunt and Dmitry his uncle. Alexander was born in Moscow, began training at six, and made his debut in Montpelier, France, which led to his acceptance in Menuhin’s classes and family at Gstaad, across the border in Switzerland.

R.D. (March 2004)