We keep hearing that the future of classical music is doomed owing to the disinterest of young people in this genre. I disagree for two reasons. First, my experience with the Chicago Symphony is the complete opposite. Many young people in attendance! Second, and perhaps more to the point, is the huge number of outstanding, gifted, sensitive, mature young musicians. Considering the violin alone, we need look no further than Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Tasmin Little, and Akiko Suwanai.
In this recording (which I believe is her second), Suwanai tackles the Dvorak war-horse with incomparable musicianship, sparkling technique, and passion. My experience with some other acclaimed young violinists (e.g., Midori) is that the technique is there, but the interpretation and emotion are lacking. Such is not the case with Suwanai. Her entrance at the opening of the first movement made my hair stand on end (what's left of it!). Tasmin Little's justifiably much-acclaimed recording (on the CfP label) pales by comparison. Suwanai's rendition is clean, clear, dynamic, pulsing. Her virtuosity is incredible. She is to the violin what Mikhail Pletnev is currently to the piano.
Although the focus of this recording is the Dvorak concerto, Suwanai sets things up wonderfully by starting off with virtuoso works by Sarasate (a comtemporary of Dvorak, and to some extent Dvorak's "Salieri"?). The incredible thing about Suwanai is her ability to make sense of these works, particularly the "Carmen Fantasy." Normally, these might be throw-away virtuoso show-off pieces, but she makes them work. Not only do they become fine pieces in their own right, but they make for a wonderful introduction to the "main event;" namely, the Dvorak concerto.
Getting a little lost in the shuffle is Dvorak's "Mazurek." The irony of including this on the program is that, despite Sarasate's misguided disdain of Dvorak's work, Dvorak nonetheless dedicated this work to his "rival." Perhaps an "in-your-face" composition?
All in all, this is a magnificent and prodigous recording and in my opinion is one of the best recordings of 2001.