Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 06 2016
Shostakovich's dark second violin concerto paired with Tchaikovsky's classic in an intimate account of a new edition
Violinist Linus Roth has followed up his discs of concertante works by Mieczysław Weinberg with a concerto by Weinberg's friend Dmitri Shostakovich. On Challenge Records, Linus Roth, the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thomas Sanderling pair Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2, Op.129 with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto Op.35, with the Tchaikovsky being presented in the new critical edition.
Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 was written in 1947, but there seems to have been something personal about the work because, whilst his symphonies formed his public utterances, the concerto was not premiered until 1955 (two years after Stalin's death). Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2 followed in 1967, ostensibly for violinist David Oistrakh's 60th birthday. But the work is hardly celebratory in mood. Shostakovich was ill, aware of his mortality and the work has references to such works as the Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 15. This performance from Roth, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sanderling really brings out the dark intensity of the work, this is music with a story, a dark back story.
It is a big work, with an opening movement lasting fifteen minutes (rather aptly the Tchaikovsky concerto is built on a similar scale).
The first movement opens dark and threatening with Linus Roth's violin almost haunted in tone. Throughout, Roth plays with an elegantly vibrant sense of the line, giving a wiry strength to the tone. There are moments of dance-like music, but even this is inlaid with anger and there is much bleakness, the cadenza-like moment is more of a meditation on what has gone before. But Roth, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sanderling do not make the mistake of making the work relentless, it is full of character and vitality, over laid by Roth's singing tone; this violin is a survivor.
The Adagio second movement is intense and melancholic, and though Roth makes the solo line sing, his tone is also inward. There are remarkable echoes of earlier Shostakovich works, almost as if the solo violin is meditating on mortality, and even the Jewish melodies fail to ignite. This is not a comforting work, despite the warm promise of horn calls later in the movement, and Roth makes it very personal indeed. The final movement seems to laugh in irony and there is a sardonic edge, though the violin keeps wandering off on its own, never reaching equilibrium, with the final dance being intensely sardonic.
Written around 90 years earlier, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto has become familiar, even over familiar. And there may be undertones of a different variety in the work too, as Tchaikovsky wrote the concerto for the violinist Iosif Kotek, who was Tchaikovsky's lover (the booklet article, rather coyly, refers to Kotek as Tchaikovsky's very, very good friend). But this performance is the first to use a new critical edition, not that the changes are as significant as the recent new edition of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 recorded by Kirill Gerstein (see my review). The eagle-eared will spot small changes, the biggest of which seems to be that the violinist keeps the mute on for the whole of the second movement. This creates a mood of greater intimacy, which seems to have inspired the whole performance.
For the opening of the first movement, the orchestra really does seem to be inviting us in, and this opening (and much else in the concerto) always rather reminds me of Tchaikovsky's ballets. Roth plays with elegant yet strong tone; the performance is surprisingly intimate, yet certainly not low key and the big orchestral statement of the main theme is very, very grand indeed. Whilst Roth's performance is highly technically adept, this is not a performance about technique it is not showy
but Roth uses his technique in the service of music. The Canzonetta is, as might be expected, intimate and rather confiding, with lovely singing tone from Roth, making real magic with the orchestra. The finale, Allegro vivacissimo is wonderful vital and vividly exciting, positively toe-tapping.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) - Violin Concerto No. 2, op.129
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - Violin Concerto, Op.35
Linus Roth (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Sanderling (conductor)
Recorded 2-4 May 2016, at LSO St Luke's, London
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72689 1CD [74.25]
Available from Amazon.co.uk.
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- Fifty mad minutes: Gerald Barry Alice's Adventures Under Ground - opera review
- Crossing boundaries: My interview with conductor Robert Ames - interview
- Music at its centre: Peter Schaffer's Amadeus at the National Theatre - theatre review
- Solo viola: Rosalind Ventris in Blake, Bach and Roxburgh - concert review
- Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect: Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Kings Place - concert review
- Lots of taste, not much excess: Le Coucher du Soleil at Kings Place - concert review
- Engaging vitality: La Nuova Musica in Cavalli's La Calisto - concert review
- Re-discovering the saxhorn: The Celebrated Distin Family - CD review
- The American violin concerto: Tamsin Waley-Cohen plays Adams and Harris - CD review