DVORÁK: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53. TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35.
Pavel Sporcl, violinist; Czech Philharmonic Orch/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Dvorak)/Jirí Belohlavek, cond.
SUPRAPHON SU 3621-2 131 (F) (DDD) TT:

From the cover and album art, Pavel Sporcl may not only be the Czech Republic’s hottest young artistic property, he could outrank Joshua Bell in sex-appeal and Kennedy in charismatic chutzpah (remember Kennedy, the bad-boy Brit?). As a U.S. resident from 1991-96 he studied with Dorothy DeLay and Itzhak Perlman, and plays the violin with a virtuosity that can do everything but enkindle conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy in the Dvorák Violin Concerto. The Czech Phil plays with its vaunted sonority and sweet solidity of tone, but the music itself is surely the composer’s nadir among concerted works – it goes on and on and on, no thanks to dedicatee Joseph Joachim’s chronic, yea compulsive meddling. It needs conducting by someone with Smetana or Martinu in his blood, and while Ashkenazy keeps pace he does not share the spirit. The performance, as a result, takes four minutes longer than the usual 29+. Oddly, there are few comparable couplings, and none in the digital era on the level of Sporcl and the Czech Phil (but there is a six-disc set on EMI Classics entitled “The Art of Nathan Milstein” that includes both, accompanied by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Orchestra in the late ‘50s, when Milstein was in a class with Heifetz, Oistrakh and Kogan, and a lot else besides).

Where this disc glitters – which www.AllMusic.com says was released in 2001, except the Tchaikovsky wasn’t recorded until September 22, 2003 – is in the Tchaik, with finale uncut no less. Jiri Belohlávek replaces Ashkenazy on the podium as interim custodian until Zdenek Macal’s arrival as principal conductor, and how he does galvanize the orchestra behind his soloist! Sporcl is liberated, with a rich caloric tone and center-of-the-target intonation in an impassioned reading yet never expressively mushy, with a fast tempo in the vivacissimo sections of the finale that might have challenged Heifetz in his prime to match. I haven’t paid attention to the music since BMG/RCA (r.i.p.) remastered the classic Heifetz/ Reiner/Chicago performance and coupled it with Brahms’, but I found myself playing this one twice, irritating sequences or none in the finale. Supraphon’s recording, in Dvorák Hall of the historic Rudolphinum, is state-of-the-art, although roars of approval at the conclusion of each concerto suggest live recordings. The soloist, finally, has a website for those who find the disc’s photo art tantalizing: http://www.sporcl.com. Be advised, however, that it’s in Czech, and you can’t copy any of the photos on stateside floppies or ZIP-discs. Be further advised that _porcl wears a bandana, featuring black and white diamonds most recently, and there’s only one picture of him, from 1997 alongside Isaac Stern, with his red hair uncovered. Perhaps he has balded – or maybe it’s just promo, Kennedy-style. But my, how he plays the Tchaik finale with a panache I haven’t heard maybe ever.

R.D. (May 2004)