Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1, Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens - Lamsma / Gaffigan / de Leeuw
Challenge Classics CC 72681
Classical - Orchestral
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1
Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens*
Simone Lamsma (violin)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
James Gaffigan & Reinbert de Leeuw* (conductors)
The structure of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is particularly original, with a sequence of four movements – slow, fast, slow, fast – entitled Nocturne, Scherzo, Passacaglia and Burlesque. The opening movement (Nocturne) is a beautiful song, blossoming from a single melodic fragment. The Scherzo is biting and dazzlingly virtuosic, like a carousel gone wild. The ensuing Passacaglia is, quite simply, the pinnacle of this concerto; a masterpiece – mature, elegiac and highly lyrical. The passacaglia theme is repeated nine times with contrapuntal elaborations. This is followed by a large-scale cadenza that forms a bridge to the finale. The concerto closes with a Burlesque, in which the theme from the Passacaglia has one final, piercing reappearance.
Shortly after the première of Gubaidulina’s Offertorium (1981), the Swiss patron of the arts Paul Sacher asked her to compose a further violin concerto for the German soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, but nothing came of this due to lack of time. It was only in 2007, eight years after Sacher’s death, that Gubaidulina completed In tempus praesens, which was given its première by Mutter at the Lucerne Festival. It is a work of extreme contrasts in which very deep, infernal passages are juxtaposed with extremely high, celestial episodes. Much more so than Offertorium, In tempus praesens is a spectacular work for the violinist, who plays virtually from start to finish and barely has a chance to pause for breath. The virtuosity demanded by the work is never an end in itself.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 8, 2017
The star of Simone Lamsma has risen with such a remarkable speed that she, only 32 years young, now firmly ranks amongst the top echelon of violinists of our time. This recording proves it beyond any shade of doubt.
The Dutch conductor, Jaap van Zweden, presently at the helm of the Dallas Symphony - but shortly heading for the coveted top job at the New York Philharmonic - predicted this many years ago. In 2009 he launched the solo career of his ‘protégée’, accompanying Ms Lamsma with ‘his’ Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, in her first public performance of Shostakovich’s violin concerto Op. 77, to great acclaim by a jubilant audience and press alike. It is, therefore, not only logical, but also high time to put her reading on record. This time with the young American conductor, James Gaffigan, and the same Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
In doing so, she’ll have to measure up to experienced and confirmed soloists like Leonidas Kavakos (Mariinski) and Vladimir Spivakov (Capriccio), having collected rave reviews on this site, as well as others like, for instance, Midori (Sony Classical), Hilary Hahn (Sony Classical) and Frank Peter Zimmermann (BIS), also available in high resolution.
Listening to various performances I wondered why so many have gotten such positive reviews. Is it the quality of their reading, the composition or both? And to what extent does a conductor play an important, or even a decisive role? I see it as a kind of interrelated, balanced circle.
Starting with the composition we cannot but admit that we have here a deeply moving work of a spiritually mature composer, probably the best of the 20th century, who suffered so much under Stalinist pressure. His creative drive was his only weapon, pushed to the limits of the conceivable, often hiding his real feelings with much quasi bombast and bravura, but with hindsight clearly laying bare ruthless totalitarian oppression, deportation and death, whilst viciously ridiculing the 'apparatchiks' and their party bosses responsible for it. The first violin concerto is a shining example, with its lament, acerbic attacks and burlesque finish. I can’t think of any other composer who can write such a masterpiece under such pressure.
Because the concerto is notoriously difficult, only few will be able to play it well. And these few are, by natural selection, the technically and musically most gifted ones. In lesser hands it becomes an unbearable experience. But in a concerto like this a soloist is nothing without an inspiring conductor, and the conductor is nothing without an orchestra of highly skilled professionals. Thus, apart from the quality of the source material, all links in the chain play a decisive, complementary role in bringing about the overall, balanced result, and have, therefore, to be of equal, excellent standard. This rounds the circle.
We may quarrel about differences in insight and interpretation and some will have their preferences as far as soloists are concerned. But the upshot is that none of the above cited readings (and other great ones in RBCD) is of poor quality, and reviews prove it. Then what should we look for in order to make up our minds for a rewarding result that suits personal requirements and expectations; for ‘picking the right one’?
Let’s look at some details. Shostakovich was a shy man, who said little about his compositions. Nothing can be taken at face value. His (often -unjustly, as far as I’m concerned- disputed) biographer, Salomon Volkov (Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich), noted his avid aversion against the regime. Understandably so, knowing that family members and friends had been shot and several of his creations openly stamped as being out of line and against proletarian heroism.
The concerto follows an unusual, more symphonically pattern in 4 movements: slow, fast, slow, fast. The first movement, ’Nocturne’, is no ‘dreamy pensive composition’. It must be seen as a sorrowful night that has fallen over his home land. Dark and brooding, a tale of mourning and desolation after the second world war, leaving millions of deaths on the battle fields. The following Scherzo depicts a disapproving indictment against a cruel regime starving to death in the thirties a large part of the Ukrainian population. It is a demonic outcry of helplessness and despair, uncovering vulgar boots trampling a defenceless community.
The third movement, ‘Passacaglia’ is sometimes described as the central part of the concerto with its lyrical moments. Central it is, but the lyrical part should in reality be seen as the kind of the irremediable sadness one often associates with clowns: Laughing tears. The link with thematic material of the 7th symphony ‘Leningrad’, makes the dramatic content of this movement undeniably clear. At its end a lengthy spine chilling cadenza (5:49) allows the soloist the freedom to fathom and personally express the emotional depth, moving directly into the next and final movement, bringing the concerto to an end in a turbulent Burlesque; a sarcastic mockery of Soviet political power of which Shostakovich holds the incomparable trade mark. (Reason why the first public performance was held back until two years after Stalin’s death in 1953).
For me, these are elements that should be taken into account in any performance of this monumental work. Neither technical skills, bravura, rattling tympani, nor orchestral outbursts, but the emotional understanding of what lies behind the notes are the real markers for judgement.
In her reading Ms Lamsma not only has the required skills & bravura, but is also able to understand and share the emotional aspects with Maestro James Gaffigan, a conductor I hold in high esteem. He takes Simone Lamsma by the hand into the tragi-magical life of Shostakovich, thus assuring a combined reading which does not turn pale in the face of any other top performance.
This is a deeply moving account which has to be heard to be believed. And when I say 'heard', there are only two suitable ways: In the concert hall with the full dynamics, or else at home with the best possible sound reproduction in order to be completely engulfed and gripped by the cruel history it conveys. Bert van der Wolf of Northstar Recording Services has once again mastered an exemplary recording, made at the facilities of the Dutch Broadcasting Music Centre, Hilversum, The Netherlands.
On top of that Lamsma has something on offer which the others don’t: Gubaidulina’s ‘In tempus praesens’ with Reinbert de Leeuw on the rostrum. A violin concerto in one movement from a Russian composer that merits all our attention. She isn’t an innovator ‘for the sake of it’. She brings new, spiritually inspired dimensions to the musical language. Until the early 1980s hardly known in the West, she represents the generation after Dmitri Shostakovich. Her reputation was rapidly established through the efforts of Gidon Kremer and Mstislav Rostropovich. This will for many be a first discovery. It is a live recording and some associated noises could apparently not be avoided as they come from the nearby members of the orchestra.
Don’t expect something easy on the ear, although it is in a way melodious, breathtakingly conceived and performed. It is about Sofia, “the Greek goddess of wisdom ... involved in the creation of the world and of art. She embodies the preoccupation of artists of both the light and dark sides of our existence”. It is at the same time a tour the force for the soloist. She is during more than 38 whole minutes the only violinist on stage (no first and second violins). Compensation comes from doubled woodwinds, three Wagner tubas and multiple percussion, making for extreme contrasts. Lamsma gives it a brilliantly extrovert reading, doing full justice to the sense of ‘In tempus Praesens’ and I urge you to find out for yourself the extent of the creative impact Gubaiduline, aged 86, was still able to produce. Phenomenal. Expect applause at the end.
Copyright © 2017 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net