Wednesday, 22 November 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, November 2017)

SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No.1
  Bournemouth Symphony / Kirill Karabits
  Decca 478 8758 / ****1/2

SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concertos
  Bavarian Radio Symphony /
  Pablo Heras-Casado
  Decca 483 0835 / *****

The string concertos of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) used to be the sacred preserve of venerable Russian soloists with a direct line to the composer himself, men like David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich who are sadly no longer with us. 

A new generation of young and glamourous artists have filled the void, including women like Viktoria Mullova, Midori, Sarah Chang and Hanna Chang. Now add British violinist Nicola Benedetti and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein to the list.  

Benedetti gives a deeply-felt reading of the First Violin Concerto (1947), without smoothing over the opening Nocturne's dark matter, and letting rip in the manic 2nd and 4th movements. The finale's Burlesque with its wild Klezmer raves also scores with a direct and relentless attack. Her trademark sweetness of tone is reserved mostly for its coupling, Glazunov's Violin Concerto (1904), which comes from an earlier and more effable era of Russian music.

Weilerstein's performances of both cello concertos are high on dry wit and ironic humour. The more familiar First Cello Concerto (1959) also benefits from the excellent orchestral French horn soloist's outlandish interjections and whoops. 

The longer, darker and grimmer Second Cello Concerto (1966) deserves to be better known, and she pulls all the stops for an ultra-coherent performance. Insanity, levity and vulgarity have seldom found a more united front in these superb recordings.     

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