Notes and Editorial Reviews
Shostakovich dedicated both of his Violin Concertos and his Violin Sonata to David Oistrakh, and that violinist’s memory remains enshrined in them. As Walton’s Concerto recalls Heifetz in almost any performance, these pieces recall their dedicatee. And when they don’t, they often don’t work. It’s hard to make a car with three or five wheels, though it can be done. Leila Josefowicz doesn’t mention Oistrakh in her personal note—she doesn’t have to. The resonances in her performance of the First Violin Concerto can hardly be mistaken. If that guarantees a certain level of respectability, she doesn’t rely on it, going a step beyond. Her playing sounds tougher, more worn and leathery than Oistrakh’s—at least in this work. But that quality turns
out to be especially well suited to the gnomic Scherzo, although at times in that movement she may seem overly aggressive. In the Nocturne, she and the orchestra cast about among the night’s shadows, both haunting and terrifying, with great subtlety and intensity. Oramo and the orchestra provide a most effective backdrop for her ruminations. In the passacaglia, Josefowicz’s tone pulsates with energy; but the following, transitional, cadenza seems heavy-handed, building to the finale too slowly and too ponderously, at least until its last frenetic moments. But the finale proper enters with gale-force bluster. I’ve mentioned that this Concerto seems to have been conceived in sophisticated gray scale. Josefowicz may finally have succeeded in liberating the work from monochromaticism while remaining true to its bleak nature.
The Sonata may not recall Oistrakh’s personality so strongly as did the First Concerto (neither did the Second Violin Concerto), although he’s still a wispy presence throughout. In reviewing Ilya Grubert’s performance on Channel Classics 16398 in 26: 5, I noted how far short of Oistrakh’s authoritative recording with Richter (Mobile Fidelity 909, presumably no longer available) his own student, Lydia Mordkovich, fell on Chandos 8988. (I also noted that Peter Rabinowitz had praised another Oistrakh student, Oleg Kagan, for his live performance with Richter from 1985 on Melodiya 10-00095—16:1, for a violence even more shocking than Oistrakh’s. That performance can be obtained on Live Classics 183.) In the above-mentioned review, I suggested that Grubert conjured “a sonorous maelstrom in the Sonata’s second movement” but lacked “both the last measure of Oistrakh’s fervor and the caustic bite of his pessimism.” And in the Sonata’s last movement, he just can’t equal Oistrakh’s “depth of reflection.” Josefowicz doesn’t seem at all brutal in the second movement, though she slashes with abandon. In the first movement, she sounds tantalizing and suggestive rather than bleak. In the finale, she brings coherence, from the very beginning, to the tonally wandering passacaglia theme and its far-ranging development (notably in the seeming improvisational cadenza-like variation). John Novacek, like Sakari Oramo in the Concerto, serves as much more than an accompanist, and a not insignificant part of the impact is due to him.
The recorded sound of the Concerto provides a rich and almost overwhelming sense of the work’s musical and tonal weight. Although the Concerto ends with applause, the notes specify two recording dates (January 11 and 13, 2006). The engineers have balanced the two strong-minded and sonorous partners in the Sonata, allowing the climaxes to reach their fearful intensity. For their strongly individual blending of the performance tradition with deeply personal elements, and for the strong artistic partnerships from which elements have emerged, these performances deserve a very strong recommendation.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin no 1 in A minor, Op. 77 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Leila Josefowicz (Violin)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Notes: This concerto was originally published in 1956 as Op. 99.
Composition written: USSR (1947 - 1955).
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