SHOSTAKOVICH; GLAZUNOV Violin Concertos
Chalk and cheese – or more aptly sweet and sour – is the flavour of this Glazunov and Shostakovich concerto pairing on Nicola Benedetti’s new album. Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor was created for Leopold Auer in 1905, before the Russian Revolution, while Shostakovich’s First was composed for David Oistrakh in 1947 but not premiered until 1955, after Stalin’s deadly shadow had lifted. They couldn’t be more different. Glazunov’s was possibly the most lyrical violin concerto to appear since Mendelssohn’s and the Shostakovich inhabits a dark, bitter world. How far does Benedetti differentiate between them?
Her Shostakovich is impressive. Like Oistrakh on his recording with the Leningrad Philharmonic (under Mravinsky conducting), Benedetti is very forwardly placed so, for instance, we hear less of the gurgling bass clarinet and commentary in the Scherzo. She captures the bleak, crepuscular atmosphere of the long first-movement Nocturne – no moonlit romantic rendezvous here but a dark, dangerous place. The Scherzo is suitably grotesque, with plenty of aggressive, muscular bite to her playing, digging into Shostakovich’s ‘DSCH’ musical monogram. Her Passacaglia is weighty, beautifully scaled down in the contemplative cadenza, while the Burlesque, although not quite as crazed as Lisa Batiashvili or Leonidas Kavakos, brings the concerto to a lively close. The superior sound balance on Kavakos’s Mariinsky recording with Gergiev (the best of recent years, to my mind) ensures better integration of soloist with orchestra, the Mariinsky offering more idiomatic, sardonic support than the BSO under Kirill Karabits.
Glazunov’s concerto was written at a time when the Belyayev circle, of which he was at the centre, was less concerned with the Russian nationalistic school of the Mighty Handful. It’s a rhapsodic work for the most part, its two large-scale movements linked by a cadenza, the finale teeming with virtuoso pyrotechnics for the soloist – a chance to display his/her armoury of double-stopping, two-part tremolos and left-hand pizzicato. It needs an air of insouciance, though, and I wanted less sinew and more sweetness from Benedetti. Heifetz is still the master here – glittering technique, but dusted with sugar too.