Among the most forgotten of forgotten Romantic-era violin concertos are the two fin de siècle Russians works on this disc. Like its composer, the A minor Violin Concerto by Anton Arensky is nearly unknown today. A lovely four-movements-in-one work lasting just 20 minutes, Arensky's Concerto has sweet melodies, tender harmonies, effervescent scoring, and a violin part calling for tremendous lyricism and virtuosity. Imagine a later and more sensual Mendelssohn and you'll have some idea what to expect. Similarly, after being almost totally neglected in the West for most of the twentieth century, Sergey Taneyev's music has risen in international estimations in the early years of the twenty-first century. His Suite de concert is formally quite unusual: five movements lasting 40 minutes with each movement in an antique form such as the Gavotte written in a style combining quasi-Baroque melodies and late romantic harmonies with plenty of opportunities for technical displays by the soloist.
Neither of these works has heretofore achieved even the limited popularity of Glazunov's Violin Concerto in the West, but this 2009 Hyperion disc may go some ways toward reversing that situation. The soloist is the charismatic Ilya Gringolts, who tears into the music with undisguised delight. His Arensky is sweepingly sensual with an Adagio of melting beauty and a closing cadenza of eye-popping virtuosity. His Taneyev is even more flamboyant and passionate. Gringolts' seamless bowing gives him a sustained line not even his expressive vibrato and extravagant gestures can break. Supported by the capable BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and cajoled by Ilan Volkov's almost aggressive conducting, Gringolts delivers performances that compel attention and command respect. In sum, anyone who already enjoys Glazunov and Tchaikovsky's violin concertos need not hesitate. Recorded in Glasgow, Hyperion's digital sound is focused on the soloist with the orchestra a bit in the background.