Shostakovich: Violin Concertos - Zimmermann / Gilbert

Shostakovich: Violin Concertos - Zimmermann / Gilbert

BIS  BIS-2247

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

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.

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Reviews (1)

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.

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (18)

Comment by Waveform - March 13, 2017 (1 of 18)

Superb disc - BBC Music Magazine's Disc of the Month (March 2017)

Comment by hiredfox - March 19, 2017 (2 of 18)

There are some excellent versions out there so looking forward to a review.

Comment by fausto kantiano - March 19, 2017 (3 of 18)

brilliant indeed. Have been listening to this many times since it came out in November.

Comment by hiredfox - April 4, 2017 (4 of 18)

Here is am extract from an e-mail received from Robert van Bahr that will be of interest to some colleagues.

Hi, John

.... yes, Litton will, I believe, be able to finish off the Prok cycle.

...and we will continue SACD's as long as they produce them, which may be a problem, if my colleagues give up, one after the other. What is Channel doing now instead??? Just downloading or what - that they should have stopped SACD is news to me.

Am incommunicado until Sunday night - am going to Germany to receive the Label of the Year Award from the international ICMA jury.

Best - Robert

Comment by Waveform - April 4, 2017 (5 of 18)

So are they going to decrease or even stop SACD productions? What a great disappointment, indeed.

Comment by William Hecht - April 4, 2017 (6 of 18)

I think that Robert,who has persevered and overcome financial calamities caused by his distributors, is talking here about whether pressing facilities will remain available for sacd. It doesn't much matter whether the work done in the studios or concert hall is superb if you can't get the finished product made. And unfortunately. I think it goes to the heart of much of our current dilemma as consumers. Supply will respond to demand, but we, the end consumers aren't creating adequate demand. Recently I published a comment of the final installment in Ronald Brautigam's beethoven cycle for BIS, the stupendous Diabelli variations. The cycle is superb from first to last and this volume fittingly caps the set. At this point several weeks post release we have one comment, and one recommendation. It doesn't look as if we're blowing down BIS' doors buying this great new recording. And if we don't buy it how does it get a spot in the pressing schedule beyond a minimum run. Over and over the same few recordings draw the interest of our group and so Jared soldiers on with Fischer's Mahler. We talked a little bit on another thread about being noisier when Linn kills sacd production , but the point is the weren't loud enough with our $,£,€, to keep Linn's sacd production suitably in profit

Comment by Waveform - April 5, 2017 (7 of 18)

Sorry guys, my mistake. Robert told me they are going to continue on SACD line also in the future.

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - April 5, 2017 (8 of 18)

Well.... I have just under 1000 rbcds and a little over 1100 SACDs. I have about 2500 LPs and frankly storage is becoming a problem. I have become aware of

and wonder what else is necessary to use downloaded surround DSD files in my sound system. I will find out soon ! I am told by someone whom I respect, that the sound quality of downloaded DSD files quite exceeds that of the corresponding SACD.

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - April 5, 2017 (9 of 18)

I hope the quality of exaSound's products does not reflect the stupidity of their website designer with the grey font on a black background Sssssss !

Comment by Euell Neverno - April 9, 2017 (10 of 18)

Some time ago I ordered a Channel Classics disk of moderate interest and discovered it was an RBCD. This got me thinking. The sound of the RBCD wasn't bad, but nor was it up to the standard of Channel's recent SACD disks. A few of Channel's programs are really top flight, but others are of limited interest. And, Channel's main strength has been the quality of its engineering. I don't do downloads, so in the future it is doubtful I will acquire Channel RBCD disks, except those of very high interest. I regret this decision, as I would like to support this company, but product counts.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - April 13, 2017 (11 of 18)

Bruce Zeisel said: “wonder what else is necessary to use downloaded surround DSD files in my sound system”.

Try the new Oppo’s. They won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The 203 DAC does not convert to PCM before converting to analogue. The 205 will be even better.

Comment by hiredfox - April 16, 2017 (12 of 18)

Good to see so many colleagues from the days back on here and in good voice. Don't give up on SACD discs yet friends.

I have just bought the new Marantz SACD player SA10-S1 and without exaggeration this is the finest SACD player ever to come to market, it's accuracy and realism are on another level from anything you or I have ever heard before with any format. Clearly there is more on your SACD discs than you could ever have imagined.

OK it is a stereo only machine but it is the new frontier for recorded music. This is a bold statement from Marantz that hopefully sends a clear message to "software" producers that there is still a very great deal of life in this not so old dog yet.

Comment by hiredfox - April 22, 2017 (13 of 18)

Not at all impressed with the recording quality in stereo even 'though the performance by Zimmermann is outstanding. Not sure why they chose to record at 48kHz (not much better than RBCD rate)? Perhaps this new concert hall is set up for radio broadcasts and BIS shared the recording facility for this session. Hardly qualifies as hi-res in today's market. Narrow diffuse imaging distracts.

Comment by William Hecht - April 22, 2017 (14 of 18)

Actually the recording seems to have been produced and engineered by North German Radio at separate in concert performances in 2012 and 2015 using what I assume is their in house kit. None of the usual BIS personnel appear in the credits except Robert Suff as executive producer.

It's funny, John, when I saw your comment I was just about to post my own observation about the excellent sound of these recordings given their "live" nature and 24/48 technology, which I think clearly illustrates that Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1, Violin Concerto - Ax / Zimmermann / Haitink is simply a poor recording (the piano concerto, that is) and not to be excused or explained on the basis of shared space or broadcast constraints, etc. though I give you credit for trying. Of course as we both know you and I really are listening to two different recordings since you do stereo and I do multichannel. By the way, good luck with the new Marantz, at US $ prices that's equivalent to 400+ discs, so I'll stick with my OPPO and buy more recordings.

Comment by hiredfox - April 23, 2017 (15 of 18)

Thanks Bill for your good wishes. At our stage of life the question "Why?" must become "Why not!", hence my rather unwise investment in the new Marantz player when common sense and dwindling assets should suggest prudence.

Although I still enjoy many hobbies, listening to classical music remains the essence of my lifeblood so it was not too difficult for my head to follow my heart. Diminishing powers of reasoning can be really helpful sometimes.

I have written elsewhere about the technological stuff but unquestionably this new SACD player from Marantz is very fine indeed and has moved well above all current players in terms of reproducing realism and accuracy of performance and so it has as hoped enhanced my listening pleasure. Why all this should matter to people like you and me and other colleagues on here when the overwhelmingly greater majority are content to listen to concerts on the radio or their i-phones is a moot point but it does.

There is a downside in that the machine can be too revealing of poor recording practices where lesser machines have let these things slip by. This recording alas is exposed for its limitations and whilst better than CD much of the atmosphere and excitement of live performance is lost.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - April 23, 2017 (16 of 18)

John L said: 'There is a downside in that the machine can be too revealing of poor recording practices'.

Quite so. With every upgrade the my bad ones sounded worse and the good ones better. But it made me enjoy the latter ones so much more that I accepted that the other stuff needed replacement. Excellent excuse, I'd say!

Comment by hiredfox - April 23, 2017 (17 of 18)

Indeed Adrian, sad but true.

Comment by Steven Harrison - June 5, 2017 (18 of 18)

I just happened to stumble upon these comments while browsing the reviews. Yes, as noted it's a bit like the old forum, and oh how some of us miss it!!!! It was just such a great sharing place.
There's been no shortage of hand wringing ever since the German sacd pressing line closed 3-4 years ago and everything went to the plant in Austria. All I notice about this is that some of the reissue discs from Acoustic Sounds take an incredibly long time to come out. I don't know it works but it seems like AS is always at the back of the line and the real producers like BIS, always go to the head of the line. And thank goodness for that as Robert is our sacd saviour.
The Channel situation is certainly perplexing with the only real discs of interest being the ones by Ivan and Rachel Podger.
And then there's HF and his wonderful new Marantz player. Pity that it did not come out 10 years ago! The only other thing like it is the PS Audio combo that costs way more. Nowadays there are just not a lot of new disc players coming out.
As to this current disc of Shostakovich Concertos...I just made an order of discs and this one was not one of them. But after reading the reviews and comments, I think I can remain satisfied with the Leonidas Kavakos/Gergiev/Mariinsky disc