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Bartók: Violin Concerto No 2, Etc / Shaham, Boulez, Chicago


Release Date: 03/09/1999 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 459639   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Performer:  Gil Shaham
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Hallelujah! Here is a magnificent recording of my favorite concerto. Gil Shaham presents a lyrical account of the violin part, but, like dedicatee Zoltán Székely in the 1939 world premiere, Shaham delivers every note, every accent in the score. His easy delivery is reminiscent of a great singer; not since Itzhak Perlman has a recording of this concerto presented such natural sounding violin production. Shaham captures the passions of the work without a single squeak or extraneous sound; among past contenders, Zukerman was as smooth but didn't climb the heights, while Mutter emoted fiercely at occasional expense to beauty. A longtime favorite, Tibor Varga with Ferenc Fricsay, had a fine balance of all these ingredients but just Read more missed the peaks of each. Only Székely and Perlman had it all, and only Mengelberg's accompaniment for Székely captured the bright orchestral fires. Although their 1939 live performance is compromised by dismal recorded sound, it remained, until today, my choice recording.

I recently heard Shaham play this work with the New York Philharmonic under Paavo Järvi. That performance was a revelation, bringing the young violinist into my canon of great performers. The Philharmonic made a gripping contribution as well, but the Chicago Symphony is even better. I have not always been a Boulez enthusiast, but here he shines along with Shaham. Orchestral playing is superb, as we have come to expect from the Windy City; it is also always to the point, sensitive as well as opulent, and beautifully balanced, from the softest ppp of the slow movement to the two momentous ff chords that close the work.

Is there nothing to complain about? Well, yes: Bartók's prescribed 32+ minutes have been stretched to 40:32. If I have nagged at every previous violation of the composer's explicit instructions, why not here? Because I don't hear it this time: If timings were not written in the DG booklet, I might not have known. My only excuse is that I am too dazzled by this stunning performance to notice. What about the Hungarian/Magyar folk elements in the score, which can be heard so strongly in Varga/Fricsay and others? Like the Emerson's Bartók String Quartets, this performance is more universal than national; such elements are still present but draw less attention to themselves. The two Rhapsodies, where folk elements do come to the fore, are every bit as fine.

DG's recorded sound is almost as miraculous as the performances; although Shaham plays delicate, exquisite pianissimos, every note from his "Countess Polignac" Stradivarius is heard clearly; the same is true for the orchestra. Much credit is due producer Christian Gansch, recording engineer Wolf-Dieter Karwatky, Tonmeister Stephan Flock, and especially conductor Boulez. All previous bets for the 1999 Want List are hereby hedged; this disc could fill the list by itself. On the other hand, it will help empty my shelves, as a large contingent of former competitors may now be retired; perhaps only Székely will survive the cut.

-- James H. North, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Violin no 2, Sz 112 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Gil Shaham (Violin)
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937-1938; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 12/1998 
Venue:  Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois 
Length: 40 Minutes 32 Secs. 
2.
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra no 1, Sz 87 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Gil Shaham (Violin)
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 12/1998 
Venue:  Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois 
Length: 11 Minutes 16 Secs. 
3.
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra no 2, Sz 90 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Gil Shaham (Violin)
Conductor:  Pierre Boulez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 12/1998 
Venue:  Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois 
Length: 11 Minutes 34 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Violin Concerto No.2, Sz.112: 1. Allegro non troppo
Violin Concerto No.2, Sz.112: 2. Andante tranquillo
Violin Concerto No.2, Sz.112: 3. Allegro molto
Rhapsody No.1 for Violin and Orchestra, Sz. 87: 1. Moderato
Rhapsody No.1 for Violin and Orchestra, Sz. 87: 2. Allegretto moderato
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra no.2 Sz 90: 1. Lassú: Moderato
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra no.2 Sz 90: 2. Friss: Allegro moderato

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