On her debut album for Berlin Classics, Sarah Christian performs no less a work than Tchaikovsky’s warhorse, his Violin Concerto, ably supported by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Jéremie Rhorer. For full measure, she plays Tchaikovsky’s Sextet Souvenir de Florence. This is repertoire radiant with positive energy and feelings of happiness, which are not always to be found in Tchaikovsky’s music. Sarah Christian is able to do more here than show off her brilliant technical skills; her love of chamber music can be clearly heard and clearly felt.
Music that revives you is an urgent necessity at times such as these. Many people have been hit hard by the Corona pandemic, music-makers perhaps hardest of all. Tchaikovsky composed both his Violin Concerto and his “Recollection of Florence” when he was at a spa, recovering from depression and nervous breakdown. Vigorous and virtuosic, but also tuneful and romantic, each work reflects this sense of recovery, the surge of new energy in convalescence. Sarah Christian set great store by recording these two works in the difficult year of 2020. She was concerned that “despite all the checks and challenges that we musicians – and others too – have faced and are still facing, it should still be possible to give back something tangible, audible, something positive.”
This album means a lot to the soloist, as can again be seen in her bond with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, of which she has been leader since 2013. She speaks of it as her “musical family”, an assurance that comes across musically in the challenges of the Violin Concerto. Sarah Christian has an equally personal relationship with her fellow-musicians in the Sextet. Johannes Strake, Wen Xiao Zhen, Jano Lisboa, Jan-Erik Gustaffson and Maximilian Hornung are friends and companions with whom she can share a joke, relish thrilling experiences and discuss how to bring the music to life.
The Violin Concerto is certainly not a work that is seldom recorded, in fact it is to be heard in several competing versions. Its original dedicatee Leopold Auer considered Tchaikovsky’s version “unplayable”, not so much for its technical difficulty but because of what he described as “un-violin-like” passages that he subjected to revision. His own version makes significant cuts in the last movement. Superstars like Heifetz and Kreisler preferred this version; as for Sarah, she plays the original with all the notes that Tchaikovsky gave it. The life-affirming, cheerful Sextet, in which Tchaikovsky brilliantly blends Italian sweetness and songfulness with Russian folk melody and Brahmsian counterpoint, achieves the very effect that the soloist was aiming for: it is bursting with power and energy.