Bruch, Bloch, Bunch, Sarasate

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bloch,Bruch,Bunch,Sarasate
LABELS: EMI Debut
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Works for Violin and Orchestra
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor; Baal shem; Fantasy; Zigeunerweisen
PERFORMER: Ittai Shapira (violin); ECO/Charles Hazlewood
CATALOGUE NO: CDZ 5 73501 2
For the first time, the EMI Debut series has splashed out on an orchestral accompaniment for one of its young artists. Was it wise, though, for the 24-year-old Israeli, Juilliard-trained violinist Ittai Shapira to lead with such a familiar piece as the Bruch G minor Concerto? While his performance is accomplished and well projected, it never quite takes wing after a somewhat ponderous first few minutes; and the finale is held back by an over-pernickety articulation of all the grace-notes in the first theme. Under Charles Hazlewood, the ECO – with relatively few strings and unusually clear wind – matches Shapira in weight, although it might have been more suitable for a slimmer reading. In comparison, Shapira’s near-contemporary Maxim Vengerov, recorded at the age of 19 with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, sails through the work with perfect ease and naturalness.

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Of the generous selection of couplings, the Fantasy by Kenji Bunch (born 1973) is a disappointment, using a programme about ‘the struggle for the existence of fantasy in the contradicting face of 20th-century reality’ as an excuse for a good old Hollywood wallow. But there is a suitably ardent performance of Bloch’s Baal shem, rarely done with orchestra, and a suitably brilliant one of Sarasate’s virtuoso Gypsy Melodies. Throughout, Shapira displays a reliable technique, and an attractive tone with intelligently varied vibrato. But the microphones frequently catch a gritty sound when his bow presses hard on the G string – something he will need to work on as his clearly promising career progresses. Anthony Burton