SHOSTAKOVICH & PROKOFIEV: Violin Concertos – Sarah Chang, violin – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Simon Rattle, conductor – EMI Classics

by | Jun 7, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH & PROKOFIEV: Violin Concertos – Sarah Chang, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Simon Rattle, conductor – EMI Classics 0946 3 46053 2 8, 60 min. ****:

The violin concertos of Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev are almost worlds apart; while both come from the two undeniable giants of twentieth century Russian music, the two stylistically bear little in common. Prokofiev’s work was written just prior to the 1917 revolution, during an exceptionally idyllic period in his life, and he pretty much abandoned the modernist tone found in so much of his work in favor of a more lyrical style.  Shostakovich’s work was composed barely thirty years later, and was written in response to his then tenuous position in life. The composer had just been publicly ostracized for his failure to write compositions more pleasing to the Soviet people, had lost his teaching position at the Moscow conservatory and public performance of many of his works had been banned.

The Shostakovich violin concerto takes center stage here, and follows the same pattern as many of his orchestral works; throughout the piece he cleverly employs the same chord progression that was to become his trademark and in German spells DSCH (the composer’s initials). The opening nocturne hearkens to the slow movements of many of his symphonies; the energetic scherzo that follows is classic Shostakovich, and quotes liberally from his tenth symphony. It’s hard to believe that music this stereotypically Russian could be banned by the Soviet government. While the Prokofiev concerto is also superb listening, it’s much lighter fare and almost seems out of place alongside the often brooding and expansive Shostakovich work.

Sarah Chang’s playing is first-rate, especially in the slower movements of each work, where she achieves an exceptionally lyrical instrument tone. Her phrasing and technique are just superb throughout, and Sir Simon Rattle and the BPO offer truly elegant orchestral support. The recording is excellent as well – you’d be hard-pressed to find a better-played or more well-recorded pairing of these masterworks of the twentieth century. Highly recommended.

— Tom Gibbs


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