CHEN/HE Butterfly Lovers. TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto • Gil Shaham (vn); Lan Shui, cond; Singapore SO • CANARY 4 (64:09)
Gil Shaham’s recording of the The Butterfly Lovers, a violin concerto to which Canary’s booklet annotator, Ken Smith, refers as the most frequently performed violin concerto (although relatively unknown in the West), reveals his willingness to adopt expressive devices ofRead more Chinese violin music. The booklet traces the stories of the Butterfly Lovers themselves (roughly Chinese equivalents of Romeo and Juliet)—coordinating it with track numbers in the recording—and of the piece itself, composed to great acclaim by a sort of team in 1959, only to be reviled during the Cultural Revolution just a bit later and then to reemerge. The program itself may be of help initially in understanding the music’s extra-musical references, but these hardly seem necessary in listening to such accessible, virtuosic music. The long-standing (though interrupted) tradition of Chinese violin-playing produced a wealth of pieces that sound like Kreisler, Ysaÿe, Paganini, and Ravel, but integrate expressive devices (many of them slides of various sorts suggestive of the sonorities and techniques of Chinese instruments), so the stage must have been set and the audience prepared for a symphonic work that not only follows in the rich tradition of earlier Chinese violin pieces but tells a heart-rending story as well. Shaham’s isn’t the first recording of this piece by a Western violinist (if you count Vanessa Mae (Angel 56483) as a Western violinist), but it may be the first in which a major Western violinist has taken the trouble to assimilate the style of Chinese folk music that’s woven into so much of the country’s violin music. For the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, such repertoire may be old hat, but it certainly can’t be for Shaham or for his listeners. Of course, Shaham remains himself throughout, displaying his characteristic rich tone production and technical alertness, but he displays insight into the devices that help create the work’s special identity if not with a memory of hearing it performed. Its cinematic lushness and its idiomatic violin part (if not its orchestration, the string-writing of which occasionally seems pinched) should help it gain a foothold, now after almost 50 years, with Shaham’s listeners.
Smith notes the great differences between The Butterfly Lovers and Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. The Butterfly Lovers inhabits an essentially magical, though occasionally violent, fairy-tale world (though its composers apparently had a sense that it jibed somehow with socialist realism—an opinion not shared a few years later) on the gentle dying moments of which even the opening measures of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto sound strenuous. But that’s the music itself, and Shaham seems even more at home in this work than he does in its oriental counterpart (the notes refer to The Butterfly Lovers as the Chinese Tchaikovsky). Emerging from the role of a lover’s voice, Shaham easily assumes the wide stance of a hero in Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. If the richness of his tone and largesse of his manner recall Oistrakh, his technical aplomb recalls Heifetz—well, some of Heifetz’s mastery, anyway. The tone production may not be quite perfect, but it’s exciting in its assurance. There’s plenty of nuance, too, as when Shaham plays the third of the three harmonics that recur during the cadenza with a sort of diminuendo. And he joins the orchestra in stepping up the coda’s driving energy. In the second movement, Shaham creates momentary repose on some notes, allowing the melody to breathe comfortably, and employs portamentos neither old-fashioned nor mannered to stamp his signature on its statement. Violinist and orchestra whip the kinetic finale into a frenzy at the end.
The recorded sound, with sufficient breadth and depth to capture the orchestra’s full dynamic range, nevertheless focusing directly on the soloist, shows all the detail that Shaham has worked into his performances. And both the orchestra and the engineers reveal just how masterful Tchaikovsky’s scoring had been (in contrast to the less-skilled one of the Chinese work). Strongly recommended for a welcome performance of The Butterfly Lovers and urgently recommended for an urgent reading of Tchaikovsky.
Concerto for Violin "Butterfly Lovers"by Chen Gang Performer:
Gil Shaham (Violin)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1959 Date of Recording: 09/2004 Venue: Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore Length: 27 Minutes 21 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Performer:
Gil Shaham (Violin)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1878; Russia
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Got to have it.December 21, 2011By Gilda Plaza (Berkeley, CA)See All My Reviews"It hasbeen a privilege for me to see and hear Gil Shaham several times A mosted gifted musician. This recording is a treasure."Report Abuse