It’s excellent to have
Shumsky’s Beethoven back in the catalogue
in Sanctuary’s Resonance series. In
his unhurried, patrician way he sees,
through great and long experience, close
to the heart of the work. His glorious
tone, only very slightly clouded by
age, emerges in all its majesty. His
rhythmic acuity is such that, despite
a relatively slow tempo for the first
movement, it never feels such. He phrases
moreover with great imagination and
flexibility as much as with lyric freedom.
He makes sure architectural sense of
phrases in the first movement that other
more boisterous, lesser - and better
known executants - skim over. Internal
contrasts are apt and pointed, and with
Shumsky you can be sure that architectural
goals are established and respected.
There’s not a meretricious note in this
performance and not one that you feel
strains for effect.
His vibrato usage increases
in the slow movement in line with greater
expressive effect and here the sweetness
of that tone is joined by a vibrant
and poetic richness in the lower strings.
He plays an extended linking passage
between this and the last movement,
rather longer than many in fact, and
imparts to the finale an almost vocalised
sense of phrasing. He is adept at digging
down into the strings and brings out
all the dance and vigour that you’d
want. This is, tonally and interpretatively
very much as one would expect – a "traditionally
but with no obtrusive gestures, no portamenti
and no externalising of rhetoric. Shumsky’s
support from the Philharmonia and Andrew
Davis is especially telling in the sensitive
layering of orchestral string tone in
the slow movement. The recording doesn’t
spotlight detail nor does the Philharmonia
sound over crisp; it’s a warm, mellow,
sometimes unassertive sound but with
finely nuanced wind solos in particular.
The Romance makes a delicious disc mate
for the Concerto bringing the total
timing to over the fifty-minute mark.
The only blot in this issue for fastidious
ears is that once or twice Shumsky’s
intonation fractionally wanders. But
I’d rather have that than some antiseptic
clean-as-a-whistle merchant for whom
the concerto is an exercise in braggadocio.
Add this to the roster of outstanding
performances the work’s received over
the last twenty years.