In the classical music world, new albums rarely make a huge splash. The core repertoire is anywhere from 400 to 100 years old, and in that time the most famous works have accrued decades of different interpretative traditions. For a new album to be big, it must provide something genuinely new to the canon.
For 18-year-old Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich, the October release of “None but the Lonely Heart” (2019), featuring a recording of Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D” (1878) and other short arrangements from “Eugene Onegin” (1879) and “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (1878) is an ambitious project. As his second full-length release after his recording of Bach’s two violin concertos and “Partita in D minor” (2018), Lozakovich attempts to vault himself into the higher echelons of the violin world, competing with nearly every famous violinist who’s taken on Tchaikovsky: Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin, to name a (very small) few.
The Violin Concerto is one of the most demanding works written for the violin. Dedicated to Leopold Auer in 1878, Auer rejected the work because he felt it to be unplayable. It was, instead, first performed by Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1881 to poor reviews due to the rushed nature of the performance. Its first critic, Eduard Hanslick, complained that the violin was “pulled about, torn, beaten black and blue.” However, it has become a staple of the concerts around the world because of its challenge and lyricism, and precisely because it pushes the soloist and the listener to go to extremes with the instrument.
In the album, Lozakovich prefers a much more refined style to others who have played Tchaikovsky. This suits the slower movements of the Concerto and some of the smaller pieces but leaves the listener wanting more at some points. In the Allegro, he sticks to the rhythm of the piece and does not make much use of rubato — slowing down or speeding up the rhythm — but this all makes the piece feel rather flat. He does not cut enough difference between the low and high points of the movement. When the violin is supposed to cry in bar 89, he imparts no real emotion because he fails to differentiate his vibrato and phrasing from other sections. This forte doesn’t really have any character. In bar 185, the attack on the double stops is not sharp enough to convey the tension where it should be intense, almost violent. Playing with a clean sound, he does not realize the drama of a piece marked by intense contrast in playing styles. The real challenge here is how to convey the lyricism and the thrashing sound which competes with it. In the end, this movement is flawless technically, but fails to live up to Tchaikovsky’s triumphant, grand and bold sound.
Where Lozakovich does shine is in the second and third movements of the Concerto and the smaller arranged pieces. His playing in the Andante is sweet and glistening and the reservation of his violin seems brooding and melancholic — all the traits which define Tchaikovsky’s musical style. The notes flow together in a long musical stream of unbroken longing. In the finale, Lozakovich finally brings out the big guns. Here, the music is so electric and powerful that it is nearly impossible to not play vivacissimo, and Lozakovich does not disappoint. In the last two minutes of the piece we hear his real virtuosity as his bow creates an explosive sound while the orchestra gathers energy like a hurricane. It just keeps building until all that energy must be released. The experience he creates is cathartic and rapturous when the piece comes to a close.
The other small arrangements are the more intimate and most expressive parts of the album. In the title track “None but the Lonely Heart,” Tchaikovsky spins some of his most heartbreaking melodies. The pianist Stanislav Soloviev is quiet here, but the trading of the violin and the piano sets the scene of an internal dialogue of the lover bemusing his fate. Lozakovich is graceful and gentle on the famous pieces of “Souvenir d’un lieu cher.” In his rendition of Lensky’s Aria “Where have you gone, o golden days of my spring?” he might be at his best. Lozakovich captures the dejected fate of Lensky as he prepares to die but also the pleasure of remembering the sun and his wife Olga. Lozakovich’s light touch is needed here to convey the rapid evolution of Lensky’s mind and soaring thoughts about his beloved. Perhaps because they are more contained, Lozakovich is able to really thrive among Tchaikovsky’s smaller pieces.
All in all, “None but the Lonely Heart” is a well-balanced album and a testament to Tchaikovsky’s endless stream of melody. While Lozakovich leaves the listener wanting more at times, his violin playing is still quite impressive. Let’s hope that he just decides to go a bit bigger next time — this reviewer will be waiting to listen.