Steven Ritter
Fanfare, USA
April 2010

You can read about Hideko Udagawa in Fanfare 27:3 (along with a feature article) and 33:5, both times by Robert Maxham who generally finds her playing to have a “sharp technical command recalling her mentor, but with a large tone reminiscent more of David Oistrakh’s than Milstein’s.” I am not so sure about the second half of that comment; hearing this disc, my first exposure to the lady, was a bit of a throwback. To me her sound is so much like that of her mentor Nathan Milstein that it was as being catapulted directly into one of those old EMI stereo discs. Even the sound of this recording stands comparison with the fine analog that Milstein got. Granted, there is a deeper imagery to this disc, but the fairly close recording of the violin, to the detriment of the orchestra but not necessarily to the overall effect, mimics strangely the way those discs sound. She also is very careful in the way she moves from note to note—some violinists are like that, you can almost hear the connective tissue in the fingers assessing each movement with an exactitude that is palpable, and Milstein is definitely one who does this, which might be the reason I was never sold on his Bach sonatas and partitas; it makes me uncomfortable, as if waiting for a slip that never happens, so secure he is in making us insecure. I get a little of that with Udagawa.

And there are a few held high notes that waver a bit, almost as if you were listening to this on a turntable that wasn’t calibrated quite correctly. But part of this is the charm of the playing as well, Udagawa being a performer who puts the spirit of the music ahead of all other considerations, and that is what makes this disc interesting. The title should sum up the sprit and the contents pretty well, the Tchaikovsky the only piece that has been recorded by virtually every virtuoso worth his or her salt, so the pickings are quite good. All of the other music here has a whiff of the outdoor concert about it, light entertainment with excellent melodies designed to show off the talents of the performer while giving the crowd a thrill. As an aside, the two Ysaÿe pieces are listed as world premiere recordings; that is true—as far as I can tell—of the Mazurka, but the Saltarelle Carnavalesque, at least in the violin/piano version, was recorded by Bruno Canino on an all-Ysaÿe Turtle Records disc in 2008.

The Rimsky is probably the least impressive piece here, while the Ysaÿes are very fine, and the Gade and Joachim works strike one as much more serious in nature than you might first think, at least after one hearing. They are showoff pieces in the best sense, with excellent wind writing to complement the warm sonorities of the violin.

Not everyone will want or need a disc like this, as a certain mood has to set in before the desire to engage this music surfaces in one’s psyche. But when that moment happens, hey—you’re all set.

Fanfare, USA