Copyright © 2011 Moonkyung Lee. All Rights Reserved.


Fanfare Magazine

There is no doubt that a disc of Tchaikovsky works for violin and orchestra on one disc like this makes for a very enjoyable hour’s listening. Perhaps that sounds like damning with faint praise, and to a certain extent it is; there is much pleasure to be gleaned here, but the depth of Tchaikovsky’s scores are only intermittently plumbed. Korean violinist Moonkyung Lee is a scholar as well as a performer. She holds a doctorate from New York University, where she was the first ever classical string performer recipient of the NYU/Steinhardt Doctoral Fellowship; currently, she is an adjunct professor at the University of Seoul. Her technique is solid and clearly reliable; in response, the London Symphony plays with its trademark accuracy and consummate professionalism. Yet it is only in the first movement cadenza that Lee really finds herself and her connection to Tchaikovsky; this is the moment the performance takes off and really grips. Even then, post-cadenza, the music tends to sag with the re-entry of the orchestra. One can admire the evenness of Lee’s playing, and her articulation is frequently a joy; her sense of legato enables the central Canzonetta to enter a different, more immediately Tchaikovskian, world. Here, tenderness from both soloist and orchestra is the order of the day, and Miran Vaupotić, a Croatian conductor new to me, follows his soloist impeccably. There is fire, too, in Lee’s opening to the finale, the lower register of the violin well caught by the recording. Lee plays a 1845 Vuillaume violin (previously owned by American entertainer Jack Benny, for what it’s worth): Clearly it is an instrument of some power. Lee allows herself plenty of space in the finale’s more reflective passages. ArkivMusic lists 186 recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto: whether your preference lies with historical accounts (Huberman, or David Oistrakh perhaps) or the more modern takes of the likes of Joshua Bell (ArkivMusic’s recommendation, with the Berlin Philharmonic under Tilson Thomas), Moonkyung Lee’s version makes for a tasteful addition. The orchestration of the “Méditation” was made by Glazunov in 1896. Personally I have always found Glazunov a massively under-rated composer and orchestrator, so it is good to have this glowing arrangement. The recording allows for much orchestral detail to come through; Lee is an expressive soloist, her tensile upper register giving the piece a vein of strength; her evenness of tone over all registers is also particularly impressive here. The clarinet countermelodies later on in the piece are impeccably managed. When Lee softens her upper register, the results can tend towards magic. Finally, the Sérénade mélancolique is again beautifully played. There is a husky aspect to Lee’s lower register here that works well. Overall then, it is the two fillers that offer by far the richest rewards here. The recording, made in Angel Studios, UK, could perhaps have an extra grain of depth to it. Worth noting also, perhaps, that the excellent Jennifer Koh on Cedille (with the Odense SO under Alexander Vedernikov) offers Tchaikovsky’s complete works for violin and orchestra on one compact disc, and that 58 minutes for Lee’s offering these days might be construed as a touch low as a duration. Lots of swings and roundabouts, then. Colin Clarke

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:5 (May/June 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.


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