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Artek recordings

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99 (1947-48 revised 1955)
Symphony No. 6, Op. 54 (1939)
Elmar Oliveira (violin)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
Recorded at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA, 2003
ARTEK AR 0017-2 [69.06]

It’s unusual to see the First Concerto coupled with the Sixth Symphony. These days headlining violinists will couple the First with the Second Concerto, or make associations with the Tchaikovsky, or with Prokofiev No.2 (a favourite coupling – see Repin and Mullova; Vengerov has coupled it with Prokofiev No.1) But Artek has instead opted for a discriminating conjunction of the 1939 Sixth Symphony and the First Violin Concerto, written just after the war but revised and reworked in 1955. Oliveira is a patrician artist and has long attracted the admiration of discriminating listeners, though chances of hearing him in Britain, at least, have lessened over the last decade or so (the only time I saw him in concert was in the Barber Concerto many years ago).

His is a reserved and subtle reading of the Concerto. Though the opening flourish under Schwarz is quite robust, at an Oistrakh/Mravinsky tempo, the Oliveira/Schwarz team doesn’t bring the same kind of cumulative weight to the Nocturne and theirs is a less arresting but more meditative approach, more a Preludio perhaps. I have to say that there is a distinctly muted air to the playing and to the recording level as well. The Scherzo is fluid and fleet with good wind contributions and in the great Passacaglia there is a sense of nobility and restraint, with restricted vibrato usage and tone colouration (not that Oliveira is deficient; he’s a master of vibrato usage but here he deliberately concentrates his tonal resources). At a slower tempo then the one Oistrakh habitually took Oliveira is also less emotive; he’s less italicised than Mordkovitch can sometimes be (with Jarvi), and lacks those off-putting withdrawals of tone that Midori indulges, but also less affecting, and the finale isn’t quite as cutting as it could be. The sound can also be problematic and the difference between its recession and the searing sunlight of the Chandos for Mordkovitch is huge. I tend to prefer 1957-1965 Oistrakh in this work (we’d better not expand the discussion to include another favourite, Kogan), even though the sound on some of the live performances (as for example in the Oistrakh in Prague box) is not pretty. In the end though this Artek performances tends to promote cohesion and consolation somewhat at the expense of the angst and drama.

The Sixth Symphony is tough to pace and order. The long, opening and tragic Largo is followed by an Allegro and a Presto finale and only the most acutely perceptive conductors can instil, from the first bars, the inexorability of the schema, its rightness. Haitink has the command and his performance has a degree of nobility whilst Jarvi has a visceral grip that screw tighter and tighter and he takes fast tempi for the last two movements. That is Schwarz’s perception as well; his Largo doesn’t incline either to Bernstein’s deliberation (Bernstein’s 22.23 to Schwarz’s 20.59) or to Rozhdestvensky pressing and urgent 17’11 – he followed in the Kondrashin tradition of speed here) but his last two movements are very quick indeed (5’54 and 6’51 respectively). As in the Concerto recording I don’t feel that Schwarz really uncovers much of the profounder schisms in the Largo and for all its velocity, and whilst woodwind articulation remains admirably secure, his Presto doesn’t really bite.

To that extent this brace of recordings achieves a degree of emotive consonance without ever really getting to the heart of the matter

Jonathan Woolf


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