Seen and Heard
Shostakovich Sayaka Shoji (violin), WDR Symphony Orchestra
Cologne/Semyon Bychkov, RFH, Wednesday, 1st December, 2004 (CC)
Sayaka Shoji is a twenty-year old Japanese who exemplifies many of
the traits of string players from that region. Technically, as she
negotiated the trickier corners of Bruch’s G minor Violin
Concerto, there was little to carp about. In addition, the very
opening augured even more, as Shoji revealed a lovely sound full of
in-built melancholy (contrasting with the somewhat approximate wind
tuning). But as the stopping and semiquavers appeared, the touch of
the well-trained but rather literal modern virtuoso appeared, and
from there on the Romantic impulse seemed very much held in check.
Lines were exquisitely sculpted, rather like an Oriental doll.
Bychkov was almost fiery in whatever chances Bruch allots. A pity
the ‘Alpine’ theme (think Strauss, R.) had little or no
majesty, though. The finale was the most successful movement, with
more than a hint of a suspicion that Shoji was becoming more unbuttoned
as the performance progressed. All too little, too late though.
Semyon Bychkov and this orchestra have of course recorded Shostakovich’s
Seventh Symphony for Avie. I was not really 100% taken with the disc,
so it is a pleasure to report that there seemed more to Bychkov’s
reading when heard live. Orchestral disposition was interesting (the
horns separated into two - spatially distinct - sets of four; violas
to the conductor’s left), but all seemed calculated for maximum
clarity. Amazingly, distinct strands could still be discerned at moments
of maximum voltage.
The weight to the strings at the opening was finely judged (although
surely this was faster than the prescribed allegretto). Ironically,
the orchestral solo violinist seemed preferable to Shoji in sweet-toned
confidence. If only some of Shostakovich’s more outrageous moments
were given full due, rather than underplayed (the climax of the super-long,
Bolero-like crescendo of the first movement, for example).
Individual contributions were frequently excellent (the oboe in the
second movement was striking). Even the finale was well-shaped by
Bychkov, yet in the final analysis the whole simply did not add up
to the sum of the parts.
Recording: Shostakovich Symphony No. 7, WDR SO Cologne/Bychkov
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