BARBER: Violin Concerto; SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor – Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin/London Symphony Orchestra/ Maxim Shostakovich – EMI Classics

by | Jul 13, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BARBER: Violin Concerto; SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in
A Minor – Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin/London Symphony Orchestra/
Maxim Shostakovich – EMI Classics 7243 4 76804 2 7, 64:33 ****:

Talk about the travails of composers: Barber was commissioned by a
wealthy Philadelphia businessman to write his first violin concerto for
a young protege. He sent the first two movements after completing them,
but the intended soloist complained they were not showy enough. Barber
then wrote a brilliant and exciting finale and the soloist rejected it
as “unplayably difficult.” Barber sent the music to a violin student at
Curtis and within hours of receiving it the student played the work for
an informal jury who found it excellent. A performance with
professionals was even arranged for the sponsor, but in the end Barber
had to return half of the commission fee.

The idea of pairing these two concertos by quite different 20th Century
composers was that both works faced problems during their creation.
Shostakovich was just finishing his violin concerto in 1948 when
Stalin’s cultural apparatchik made the famous speech denouncing
Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others and charging them with “formalism.”
Since the concerto in no way kow-towed to Soviet cultural dogma,
Shostakovich just put it away until a more propitious time.  That
time happened shortly after Stalin’s death, and the concerto finally
had its premiere (with a much-later opus number) in l955.  The
Concerto is in four movements rather than three and in other ways more
closely resembles a symphony than a concerto. There is no virtuosic
display of the violin soloist.  David Oistrakh – who performed the
premiere of the work – described its Scherzo movement as “evil and
demonic.”  There is also a sardonic and biting undertone as in
many works of compatriot Prokofiev.

Salerno-Sonnenberg has also faced some heavy problems – not in birth
but in  life – as anyone who has seen her compelling documentary
film knows.  She brings her gutsy and highly emotional style to
both of these works and to my ears makes them more listenable as a
result than other performances I have heard.  With Shostakovich’
son Maxim at the helm, his father’s violin concerto is assured a most
appropriate interpretation. Recording quality is good, but anything for
solo violin sounds so much better via SACD I’m hoping there’s a hi-res
version of this CD coming in the future.

– John Sunier

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