SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
This coupling of the two Shostakovich violin concertos could hardly be more welcome, when it so completely explodes the idea of No. 2 being a disappointment after the dramatic originality of No. 1. Certainly No. 2, completed in 1967, a year after the very comparable Cello Concerto No. 2, has never won the allegiance of violin virtuosos as the earlier work has done, but here Lydia Mordkovitch confirms what has become increasingly clear, that the spareness of late Shostakovich marks no diminution of his creative spark, maybe even the opposite. In that she is greatly helped by the equal commitment of Neeme Jarvi in drawing such purposeful, warmly expressive playing from the SNO. With such spare textures the first two movements can be difficult to hold together, but here from the start, where Mordkovitch plays the lyrical first theme in a hushed, beautifully withdrawn way, the concentration is consistent.
The premiere recording of the work from David Oistrakh (Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi), dedicatee of No. 2 as of No. 1, has remained unchallenged for a generation, and Mordkovitch does not always quite match her mentor in the commanding incisiveness of the playing in bravura passages. But there is no lack of power in her reading, and in any case much the more vital element in this work is the dark reflectiveness of the lyrical themes of the first two movements. It is not just that Mordkovitch has the benefit of far fuller recording and a less close recording balance, but that her playing has an even wider range of colouring and dynamic than Oistrakh's. She conveys more of the mystery of the work and is perfectly matched by the orchestra. As in the First Concerto the principal horn has a vital role, here crowning each of the first two movements with a solo of ecstatic beauty in the coda. The Russian player on the Chant du Monde version is first rate, no Slavonic whiner, but the SNO principal is far richer still, with his expressiveness enhanced by the wider dynamic and tonal range of the recording. The range of the recording helps too in the finale, where the Allegro has a satisfyingly barbaric bite, while the scherzando element is delectably pointed, as it is in the first movement too.
In the Concerto No. 1 Mordkovitch is hardly less impressive, providing not a second best, but a very valid alternative to the fine versions I have listed. As in Concerto No. 2 one of Mordkovitch's strengths lies in the meditative intensity which she brings to the darkly lyrical writing of the first and third movements. Here, too, I have never heard her sound quite so full and warm of tone on record before. In the brilliant second and fourth movements she may not play with quite the demonic bravura of Perlman (EMI), let alone Oistrakh, but as in No. 2 there is no lack of power or thrust, and in place of demonry she gives rustic jollity to the dance rhythms, faithfully reflecting the title of the finale, Burlesque. She is helped by recorded sound far fuller than Oistrakh's and far better balanced than Perlman's. This makes an invaluable addition to Jarvi's Shostakovich series.'