The Essential Midori

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Japanese violinist Midori had a kneeling Leonard Bernstein getting up close and personal with the podium wood as a teen and was a veteran by the time she was in her late twenties. She has made a successful transition from prodigy to durable concert attraction, and a retrospective of her work was certainly a reasonable candidate for Sony's series of Essential double-disc sets. The best way to get to know Midori is still to buy one of her individual discs (her recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D major may be the high point, with its mix of fire and sustained motivic intelligence), but the recordings here are well known, intelligently excerpted, and competently remastered. The only issue, really, is that the ordering is reverse chronological, and this doesn't show Midori at her absolute best. The idea was to begin with the recording with which Midori first made a splash: her icily confident 1988 reading of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin, Op. 1. That's fine, but the program continues with solo violin and violin-and-piano works, which aren't the repertory for which she is best known. Midori's structural intelligence and her technical mastery exceed her ability to lay the emotion on thick when necessary, and she is not the first choice in a piece like the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro (track 7). There are plenty of highlights on disc one, however; one only wishes to hear more than one movement from her 2005 recording of the Bach Sonata No. 2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV 1003. On disc two you are in the big concerto territory that has made Midori among the most beloved concert attractions in both the U.S. and Europe. Until the mid-2000s she did not venture far into modern repertory, but Bartók fits her skills to the hilt, and she has a sound both mighty and perfectly controlled throughout the opening movements of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos. The only one of her major recordings omitted is her Mozart disc, partly shared with Nobuko Imai in the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin and viola, K. 364. It's a justifiable omission, although it showcases her unusually luxuriant tone in Mozart's music. Quibbles aside, this makes a solid selection of Midori for anyone in need of such a thing for gift or just listening purposes.

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