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Bruch & 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.

Colin Clarke

Recording: Shostakovich Symphony No. 7, WDR SO Cologne/Bychkov Avie AV0020


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