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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D Op.61 (1806) [44.43]
Romance No.2 in F Op.50 (c.1798) [9.07]
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Recorded London, 1988

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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 classical-romantic" performance 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.

Jonathan Woolf

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