Brahms. Bart—k. Schumann

COMPOSERS: Brahms. Bartók. Schumann
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms. Bartók. Schumann
WORKS: Violin Concerto. Concerto for Orchestra. Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Gil Shaham (violin); Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado. Berlin PO/Pierre Boulez. Martha Argerich (piano); Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: EuroArts 2056078. EuroArts 2056098. EuroArts 2056068
If you’re instinctively put off by the idea of ‘Discovering Masterpieces’ – fearing something wearyingly earnest with all the charisma of a late night Open University broadcast on particle physics – think again. Actually, if your eye has strayed to the artist list, you’ll already be revising your opinions. Sharply. Even without the accompanying package, Gil Shaham’s Brahms Violin Concerto, recorded on a sticky summer night in Palermo’s Teatro Massimo with the Berlin Philharmonic under Abbado, more than justifies the outlay. The poetic and dramatic charge is electric in a performance that revels in the ‘live’, un-studio-shackled moment. Musicians always know when something special is happening and a look Abbado flashes Shaham during the first movement says it all. Their unanimity is complete and the Concerto sounds like one great love song rounded off with a party. The accompanying documentary is compelling. Seductive shots of the Austrian countryside merge with enthusiastic, confiding interjections from Brahms scholar Wolfgang Sandberger, and Shaham lends context from the performer’s point of view. His verbal enthusiasm is as infectious as the playing is peerless (those who found the studio recording ‘Brahms-lite’ could never maintain the accusation here). Best of all, the commentary, for the most part, avoids the self-improving evening class pitfalls of dwelling too much on second subjects, submediant modulations and ABCBA form. Less true of Boulez’s Bartók alas, though what ought to be the most self-recommending DVD of the bunch is also slightly marred by the venue – the gloriously exotic Monastery of St Jerome just outside Lisbon. In the capacious acoustic the ‘death song’ of the third movement sounds positively apocalyptic. The miracle is how much of Boulez’s layered prismatic vision survives. It’s an engineering triumph worth the prize given such white-hot playing and an apotheosis which sweeps all before it. There’s more virtuoso vision in Martha Argerich’s Schumann too. She doesn’t speak (and the documentary fidgets), but the performance, glows with muscular certainty and fervour (Chailly’s contribution no less inspirational). Quibble about the documentary footage if you must; but all the performances will leave you riveted and revitalised.