Barber/Korngold Violin Concertos
Though the conjunction of Barber and Korngold might not seem pointful, it works splendidly here. The performance of the Barber, warm and rich with the sound close and immediate, brings out above all the work's bolder side, allowing moments that are not too distant from the world of Hollywood music (no disparagement there) and aptly the Korngold emerges as a central work in that genre. There have been subtler readings of Barber's lovely concerto, with the soloist not always helped by the close balance, but it is good to have a sharp distinction drawn between the purposeful lyricism of the first movement, marked Allegro, and the tender lyricism of the heavenly Andante. In the moto perpetuo finale Shaham brings out the fun behind the movement's manic energy, with Previn pointing the Waltonian wit.
In the Korngold, Gil Shaham may not have quite the flair and panache of the dedicatee, Jascha Heifetz, in his incomparable reading, but he is warmer and more committed than Itzhak Perlman in his Pittsburgh recording for EMI, again with Previn conducting. What has emerged again and again in my comparisons is how electric the playing of the LSO is under Previn here, rich and full as well as committed, echoing vintage Previn/LSO recordings of the 1970s. The recording helps, far clearer and more immediate than that for Perlman's EMI, though on DG the balance of the soloist is markedly closer, if not as exaggeratedly close as with Heifetz. It is true that in his cooler way Perlman finds an extra tenderness in such passages as the entry of the violin in the slow movement, more poignant, if not so open and warm, but Shaham and Previn together consistently bring out the work's sensuous warmth without making the result soupy. It is striking how Previn as conductor, both for Shaham and Perlman, gives a rhythmic lift to the dashing moto perpetuo of the finale, as in the Barber finale relishing the Waltonian cross-rhythms, where Wallenstein for Heifetz tends to make it a mad dash in pursuit of the soloist.
The suite from Korngold's incidental music to Much ado about nothing, dating from his early precocious period in Vienna, provides a delightful and apt makeweight, with Previn, as pianist, just as understanding and imaginative an accompanist, and Shaham yearningly warm without sentimentality, clean and precise in attack. The four strongly contrasted movements draw on the most open and lyrical side of the composer, again often sensuous in beauty, but with sharply rhythmic contrasts as in the Hornpipe finale. Anthony Burton's ideally helpful note explains how the young Korngold arranged the original chamber setting for violin and piano, when the run of the original Shakespeare production was extended, and the orchestra was no longer available. Korngold himself played the piano, which helps to explain how unlike an arrangement this sounds.'