Shostakovich: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Sergey Khachatryan (violin); Orchestre National De France/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: V 5025
With an extraordinary proliferation of new recordings of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto during the past year, you’d be entitled to wonder whether the work is now in severe danger of being over-exposed. Nevertheless Sergey Khachatryan is an exceptionally gifted young violinist who could bring something special to this music. Indeed on technical grounds, the performance is absolutely irreproachable, Khachatryan demonstrating some dazzling violinistic pyrotechnics in the Scherzo and the Burlesque, and delivering a thoughtful and contemplative account of the Cadenza. Unfortunately, the recording engineers have done Shostakovich a grave disservice by placing Khachatryan too close to the microphone, negating the musical logic of passages such as the dialogue with the woodwinds at the opening of the Scherzo. The distant sound of the orchestra, not to mention the occasional imprecision of ensemble in the faster movements, also seems to emphasise a distinct lack of tension or creative communication between soloist and conductor, a feature that is ever-present in the Vengerov/Rostropovich recording on Warner Elatus. This makes it much more difficult to maintain a sense of direction in the Nocturne, and Masur hardly helps things with a surprisingly flaccid conception of the opening paragraph of the Passacaglia.

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Although the Second Concerto doesn’t require the same degree of symphonic interaction between soloist and orchestra, a more defined orchestral contribution would have generated greater perspective to this emotionally elusive work. The braying horns, for example, in the Finale don’t sound anything like as sinister as they do on the Daniel Hope/Maxim Shostakovich Warner release, which in most respects makes a much more persuasive case for this underrated work. Erik Levi