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Posted June 30, 2014
Powerful contemporary works brought to life by Gil Shaham
This recording is interesting, in that violinist Gil Shaham has chosen 5 violin concertos composed in the 1930s, from Samuel Barber, Alban Berg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Igor Stravinsky, and Benjamin Britten. The well written liner notes provide informative and relevant background information on each of the works, as well as detailing Mr. Shaham’s interest in exploring violin concertos written in the early 1900s. If this first volume (in the form of a 2 CD set) is any indication, then these pieces and those to come are certainly worth listening to and contemplating.
The first work is Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. The piece is beautiful, particularly the first two movements, and the historical background is equally fascinating. The third movement, while not as melodically stunning as the first two, requires virtuoso skills from the soloist that made this listener want to applaud the recording as well. Amazing.
The second work, Berg’s Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”, is a haunting and powerful tribute to an 18 year old girl that Berg (per the liner notes) “loved as if she were his own child.” I was unfamiliar with the background to the piece prior to hearing it, but emotion and intent was clear right away. And Mr. Shaham’s abilities turn this into a captivating and very human experience.
Closing the first CD is Hartmann’s “Concerto funebre”, which is performed with the Sejong Soloists. While this concerto is bit more chromatic and angst filled, it is also very approachable and not off putting in the slightest, particularly given the historical events occurring at the time of the creation of the piece.
The first of the two works on the second CD is Stravinsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major”. This is a somewhat playful piece that requires great dexterity on the part of the soloist, but filled with back-and-forth Stravinsky motifs throughout the work. This is definitely not a concerto for the timid, and Mr. Shaham attacks it and conquers it.
The final piece in this collection is Britten’s “Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 15”, a rather pensive sounding piece, both uneasy and driven at the same time. It is clear that Britten was uncomfortable with current world events at the time (and who can blame him?), and this clearly shows in the musical language that he uses here. That being said, the work is also strikingly clear and lovely in the same way that an overly chilly frost-laden day is first thing in the morning. This is a unique composition, and most definitely deserving of in-depth active listening.
This recording is also of exceptional quality, in addition to giving the listener much to experience intellectually and emotionally. Strongly recommended.
Posted May 27, 2014
There's an advantage to running your own record label -- it's easier to do the projects that you really believe in. In this case, Gil Shaham is the owner/operator of Canary Classics, and the project is a survey of violin concertos of the 1930's.
Just the lineup of composers for this first volume show how rich this decade was: Samuel Barber, Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten, Karl Amadeus Harmann, and Igor Stravinsky all wrote violin concertos in the 1930's.This 2-CD set brings together recordings of Shaham performing in different venues with different forces, so there's a little unevenness in the sound. But not in the performances themselves. Shaham plays every work insightfully and with conviction.
Shaham's rendition of Berg's Violin Concerto brings out the emotion suggested by the subtitle "To the Memory of an Angel." He highlights the romantic expressiveness of the work, letting the dodecaphonic structure fade far into the background.Stravinsky's Violin concerto is played with dryness and acerbic wit, while Britten's youthful Op. 15 concerto revels in its more somber tone and thicker harmonies.
For me, the two standouts (and that's a relative term) were the Hartmann "Concerto funebre" and Samuel Barber's violin concerto. Hartmann's work reflects the deep despair this anti-fascist composer felt living in the heart of Nazi Germany. Shaham both plays and conducts, making this a very intimate reading. The pathos expressed is heart-breaking, and Shaham delivers it with the sensitivity it deserves.
The opening work is Barber's violin concerto, recorded in a live performance. David Robinson and the New York Philharmonic make this richly romantic work positively luminescent. Shaham sings through his violin, taking full advantage of Barber's lyrical music. The energy in the final movement is almost palpable, and the enthusiastic response is well-deserved.