Shostakovich Violin Concertos — Alina Ibragimova/ Vladimir Jurowski — Hyperion

by | Jul 19, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77; Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp minor, Op. 129 – Alina Ibragimova, violin/ State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov”/ Vladimir Jurowski – Hyperion CDA68313, 71:29 (5/29/20) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Shostakovich completed his A minor Violin Concerto in 1948, but the political tenor of the times, dominated by the repressive Stalin regime, had compelled  the composer to desist from writing symphonies or any “abstract” or “formalist” composition that did not win Party favor or esteem from the Composers’ Union.  Even after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Composers’ Union would make no affirmative statement on the Violin Concerto, Op. 77, so the melancholy work – Shostakovich called the four-movement concerto a “symphony for violin and orchestra” – had to wait until 1956, now baptized Op. 99, for its dedicatee David Oistrakh (1908-1974) to declare its intrinsic value and win consent for public performance. Oistrakh twice recorded the Concerto, with Mravinsky and Mitropoulos, and those documents stand as templates for all future interpreters. 

Violinist Alina Ibragimova (b. 1985) has her work cut out for her: the soloist in the A minor Concerto (rec. 3-7 July 2019) must play almost without pause and mostly in double stops. The opening Nocturne: Moderato bears a delicate yet heavily misty affect in dotted rhythms, without the weightier brass instruments, so Ibragimova engages in essentially chamber-music ensemble. The bassoon adds its own color as the music gains in severe intensity, especially in the bass tones. The Nocturne has become a threnody of solemn nature, lyrical in a fashion that we find disturbing. Whatever anxieties plague the first movement, they erupt in the succeeding Scherzo: Allegro, which features Ibragimova amongst the woodwinds in a 3/8 disguised “autobiographical” romp that accents D#-E-C#-B, a transposition of the composer’s German initials, a la Schumann anagram. Ibragimova plays these notes fortissimo in octaves. Jurowski busies himself with a 2/4 wild folk dance that might have elements similar to the Jewish Folk Poetry settings the composer made at the time, his personal resistance to the anti-Semitic character of his nation’s history. The flute and various winds contribute to the feverish mix, even as the 3/8 materials return. Both violin and orchestra clamor for supremacy as the music, now a weird march-reel, comes to manic conclusion.

Shostakovich chooses the antique form of the Passacaglia for his third movement, certainly a concession to his love of the music of J.S. Bach. The orchestra establishes the procession in seventeen measures, and this grueling plaint will repeat nine times. The colors between Ibragimova and the woodwinds – English horn and bassoon figure prominently – become poignantly intimate, moving to a grand, febrile cadenza that provides a movement in its own right as well as the transition to the last movement, Burlesque: Allegro con bio – Presto. The relatively brief finale employs more of the virtuoso’s arsenal of flamboyant devices than anything we have heard prior, its brilliance both as a showpiece for solo – a wild, unfettered banshee – Ibragimova and a spasm of vitality that perhaps serves as testimony to the will to endure and triumph.

Cast in smaller proportions than the First Concerto, the 1967 Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra meant to celebrate David Oistrakh’s presumed 60th birthday, but the composer’s miscalculation led to his creating the Violin Sonata, Op. 134. Oistrakh did in fact give the world premiere in Bolshevo with the Moscow Philharmonic, Kirill Kondrashin conducting. While the scoring remains chaste, as in the A minor Concerto, there are three movements, and the opening Moderato has cellos and doubles basses in octaves, just as in the previous concerto. Again, the violin solo proves quite demanding, and Ibragimova rests only for two measures in the Adagio. The French horn acts as a secondary personage in the classical drama that unfolds, contributing to the meditative color of this work, often interpreted as a portrait of Oistrakh rather than of the composer. The presence of three cadenzas certifies the close relationship between Shostakovich and his most reliable violin interpreter. 

The first movement, comprised of two major motifs, the second of which exploits the percussive use of the tom-tom drum, and invokes something of the aging composer’s sarcasm. Ibragimova projects an ardent intensity into the ongoing, kaleidoscopic array of sound clusters the composer superimposes contrapuntally. Her rasping tone and quick shifts of register suddenly emerge alone, the first cadenza’s having appeared from some interstellar abyss. The French horn, tom-tom, and tympani color the last pages, which fade in diaphanous, staccato textures.

The second movement, Adagio, projects a Baroque austerity of means, simple, unadorned, with the flute’s soon accompanying the violin’s gloomy song. After an intense crescendo from cellos and basses, the music assumes a fragility that converts into the violin cadenza. Tremolo, the orchestra returns with a restatement of the opening materials, with the horn solo’s taking up the main melody. Ibragimova has introduced sentimental glissandos and complement her often rasping, penetrating double stops. The horn carries the slow movement to its conclusion.  Similar to Ravel’s Tzigane, the violin opens the Adagio – Allegro, a kind of grotesquerie with uneven pulsations and wicked, spiky pizzicatos for Ibragimova. Woodwinds from both ends of the color spectrum intrude, along with active tympani. Some auditors claim the rhythmic pulses come from Odessa, Oistrakh’s birthplace. A last, a thrusting and aggressive cadenza compresses the musical materials in quasi-gypsy style. The tension Ibragimova generates finds not relief but accompaniment in the manic horns and winds, and then the whirling dance erupts once more, galloping toward some explosive assertion that the tympani cuts short without mercy.

—Gary Lemco 

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