Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61
Gil Shaham (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at concerts on 1 & 3 February 2007 in Symphony Center, Chicago
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2008
CD No: CANARY CLASSICS CC06
Duration: 48 minutes
It’s surprising that this recording has taken this long to be issued (it is scheduled for November 2008) given that its provenance is from 18 months earlier and that Canary Classics is Gil Shaham’s own label. Maybe further performances of Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Berliner Philharmoniker (and David Zinman) in late October of this year have been the prompt. After those (three) concerts, however, the disc is on its own – and it will stand up very well in a well-filled catalogue of versions of this great work.
Zinman coaxes some lovingly shaped and well-detailed playing from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the orchestral introduction a mix of nobility and tender reflection. Shaham himself, playing what he regards as “the Tristan and Isolde of violin concertos”, brings sweet intensity to his task, just occasionally losing pace for the beauty of the moment. In fact the first movement tends to rhapsodise a little too much despite the spirit, eloquence and sympathy that is here lavished on the music. Such a heartfelt response comes into its own in the slow movement; Shaham’s first entry is exquisitely managed, not least the way he inches to the stratosphere, and Zinman here, as throughout, traces the woodwind accompaniments as chamber music; he also has a way with Elgar’s climaxes that make them evolve naturally and with real power.
The finale – normally the longest movement – is here equal to the first in length and begins with razor-sharp articulation from the soloist, without any undue strain, its episodes rather better integrated than earlier, quite defiantly at times, yet sinking into the ‘accompanied cadenza’ with ideally judged reverie and with a fair degree of fantasy and certainly emotional largesse. The coda is thrilling.
The recording is excellent, bright and vivid without being harsh, and tangible while retaining airiness. Balance between soloist and conductor is also well judged, allowing Shaham a full profile without domination and numerous orchestral details to emerge clearly. One wonders what the ‘twangy’ sound between the first two movements is and one also regrets what seems like a none-too-well disguised ‘patch’ between 6’31” and 6’37” in the first movement. Otherwise this a deeply considered performance that greatly benefits from being recorded at concerts.