Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Live Classics
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor
PERFORMER: Oleg Kagan (violin); USSR State SO/Alexander Lazarev, Moscow PO/Djansug Kakhidze
CATALOGUE NO: LCL 105 ADD
Tchaikovsky’s song and dance alongside Shostakovich’s matter of life and death make this perhaps the ultimate concerto test for any violinist. After the revelation of earlier instalments in the miraculous Oleg Kagan edition, I was expecting wonders from the late, great Russian; but hints of ‘babe’ photography on the cover of unknown (to me) Honda-Rosenberg’s disc were not encouraging. This German-born Croatian-Japanese violinist, though, has training credentials as impressive as those of her conductor, Lior Shambadal, and both deserve to be taken seriously. The cadenzas are treated with a maturity as well as a sense of fantasy and spaciousness, briefly lending Honda-Rosenberg first-division status (Arte Nova’s ‘Winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition 1998’ is misleading – she was awarded second prize). She probes Shostakovich’s two slow movements with evident intelligence and the harmonics are ethereally pure, vitally so at the end of the opening Nocturne.

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Kagan, however, inhabits another planet. His Nocturne may at first seem at too high a dynamic level, and he plays the Tchaikovsky finale straight, but the centredness and security of it all result in a pure stream of music-making which has to be heard to be believed, raising the Tchaikovsky to unexpected heights. He delivers Shostakovich’s Passacaglia with an eloquence of musical speech equal to David Oistrakh – Olivier in Hamlet, perhaps, to Oistrakh’s Gielgud – and faces the whirlwinds with a steely intensity unsurpassed even by Lydia Mordkovitch (a real hair-raiser on Chandos). Live recording in both works is rough and sometimes fiercely close for the violin, but authentically raw, while Arte Nova’s sound mutes the impact of Shambadal’s hard-working Slovenians. David Nice