Shostakovich: Violin Concertos - Frank Peter Zimmermann/Alan Gilbert
Classical - Orchestral
Shostakovich: Violin Concertos 1 & 2
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Alan Gilbert (conductor)
Composed almost 20 years apart, the two violin concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich were both conceived with the great violinist David Oistrakh in mind and dedicated to him. Shostakovich completed Concerto No. 1 in 1948, at a time when he had fallen out of grace with the Soviet authorities and it seemed uncertain if the work would ever be performed in public. This is reflected in the concerto which begins with a dark and solitary violin song over gloomy cellos and double basses. Throughout the work there are allusions to the composer’s situation, such as the D-S-C-H motif that appears in so many of his works and which in the second movement is closely related to a theme reminiscent of Jewish popular music, as a symbol of Shostakovich’s identification with the suppressed Jewish culture. In the same movement there is also a theme derived from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk which in 1936 had caused the composer’s first denunciation by the Soviet regime.
In 1967 Shostakovich wrote to Oistrakh, telling him about the completion of his Violin Concerto No. 2. The composer’s health had been failing for several years, and only the year before he had suffered a heart attack. In several of his late works there is a preoccupation with mortality, and the concerto exhibits a similar dark, introspective tone, especially in the central Adagio. Performing these two great works of the mid-20th century is one of the finest violinists of our own time, Frank Peter Zimmermann. The recordings were made at public concerts at the Hamburg Laeiszhalle, with the eminent support of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – formerly known as the NDR Sinfonieorchester – conducted by Alan Gilbert, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor for more than a decade.
Review by John Broggio - May 29, 2017
A somewhat frustrating account of the first concerto because of the accompaniment.
The first concerto is somewhat unusual amongst violin concertos, actually most concertos, in that it opens with a Nocturne that is obviously far from the extroverted display that is the hallmark of most of its forebears. Frank Peter Zimmermann dominates the proceedings with a powerfully eloquent delivery. Sometimes the balance favoured (presumably by the artists themselves) is arguably too much in favour of Zimmermann's solitary musings but few will complain given the power of the playing.
In the demanding Scherzo second movement, the orchestra is required to impose itself more than in the first movement; despite operating at very different levels of pitch to the soloist, Alan Gilbert once again is very accommodating to Zimmermann's line; how much so can be heard in the tutti passage that occurs just before the half-way mark of the movement - this generosity may not be appealing to listener. Talking once with Roger Vignoles, he remarked how in masterclasses with aspiring accompanists, that he frequently had to get participants to really play the dynamics marked rather than hiding behind the soloist - remarks that some may feel seem apposite here.
The orchestral introduction to the dominating Passacaglia is played with real depth and emotion; "concerto dynamics" then return with Zimmermann's entry which is far more imposing than a dialogue with the orchestra. The orchestral phrasing, while Zimmermann is playing, seems "muzzled" and obvious phrasing opportunities go without comment, which is completely at odds with the passion with which Zimmermann bestows the solo line; it is no coincidence that the single most effective part of the concerto is the extended cadenza.
The concluding Burlesque has some real venom from Zimmermann and the orchestra separately; the balance for the most part when playing together is still dominated by Zimmermann but less so than elsewhere, suggesting artistic decisions rather than the engineering team. The coda is really tremendously exciting indeed and caps an impressive performance from Zimmermann.
The second concerto is more conventional in structure but the opening Moderato receives no less an eloquent response from Zimmermann, although the movement has passages where it tries to "break free" into a full blooded allegro with attaching virtuosity. Gilbert's allows the orchestra to give a less muted response than in the first concerto, as if the later scoring is more trustworthy; this listener wishes that the first concerto had been accompanied with a similar level of musical excitement.
The central Adagio has playing from Zimmermann that mirrors that of the Nocturne in the first concerto but the dialogue he enjoyed in the Moderato continues to great effect. The final movement has every positive aspect one could wish for, most particularly fantastic playing from Zimmermann and an unbuttoned orchestral response.
The recording must be one of the very last to have been taped in the NDR Elbphilharmonie's old concert venue: the Laeiszhalle. The sound is reasonably clear but perhaps not the finest that BIS have ever gifted us; however, that might be owing to decisions on & near the podium rather than the engineering team themselves.
Overall, this is a qualified success. Although the pairing of the two concertos could have been good for collectors, the account from Lamsma (Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1, Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens - Lamsma / Gaffigan / de Leeuw) should also be auditioned and although to these ears there is less need, Roth (Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 2 / Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto - Roth/Sanderling) is also not to be missed.
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