For anyone giving this review only ten seconds before they make
up their mind: this is an unmissable CD. Shapira's Concierto
Latino is a memorably orchestrated, romantic modern masterpiece,
full of imagination, passion and beautiful melody.
Israeli-American violinist Ittai Shapira has now recorded numerous
CDs as a soloist, from his debut in 2000 on EMI Classics, less
than warmly reviewed here,
to much more enthusiastically received recent performances reviewed
the latter his most recent recording for not-for-profit English
label Champs Hill Records. This new release appears to be his
first disc as composer, although he has written, among other
works, a violin concerto, a double violin concerto and a double
concerto for violin and cello.
Because of the very short playing time, this is being marketed
as a CD single, and rightly so. Nevertheless, everything else
about it - jewel case, booklet, disc size, recording quality
- is standard. The asking price reflects both facts, although
a wide discrepancy is found between retailers. Rest assured,
the Concierto Latino is worth every penny.
According to the booklet notes, Shapira's influences include
not just the likes of Villa-Lobos and de Falla, but also Osvaldo
Golijov, the Buena Vista Social Club and in particular the Colombian
pop singer of international renown - at least among those who
like that sort of thing - known as 'Shakira'. The notes repeat
her "prophetic" pearls of wisdom, that writing music
"has a therapeutic effect".
Shapira found this out for himself after he was mugged by a
gang of men in New York in 2005. Subsequent daily headaches
were accompanied by bursts of sound which Shapira began to write
down. This musical response helped the memories of the attack
come back, a process which Shapira found cathartic.
Concierto Latino's first movement is thus entitled 'The
Attack', but, aside from the insistent rhythmic energy, the
horror of the assault is not especially emphasised in the music,
which is surprisingly upbeat. More to the fore are influences
from Shapira's Jewish Middle Eastern background and the Latin
ones already mentioned, which give the work its title. The second
movement, 'Lament', is a reflection on the mugging, and begins
wistfully. There is soon another rhythmically vigorous episode
which suggests the physicality of the attack. Solemn contemplation
soon returns, before yielding to a beautiful melody which, according
to the notes, indicates "resignation and, ultimately, acceptance".
Throughout this movement Shapira plays with great expression
- the music clearly kindles deep feelings.
Shapira's recovery from the assault is celebrated by the final
movement, tellingly entitled 'Party'. Conga, salsa and rhumba
rhythms aided by ethnic drums and trumpets alternate with more
heartfelt optimism, partly Germanic, partly Sephardic. Shapira's
finely intoned, virtuosic violin (an early Guadagnini) brings
this vivid, unforgettable work to a vivacious conclusion.
London Serenata do not get a mention in the notes, but whoever
they are, they play superbly under Krzysztof Chorzelski - better
know as the Belcea Quartet's violist. Sound quality is excellent,
and the booklet glossy and informative, even if the notes are
rather overstated in places.
Finally, it is worth quoting the raison d'Ítre of Champs
Hill, from their website:
"It's not about making money, it's about giving people
the chance to hear some of the finest musicians in the world,
and about providing a platform for some of the marvellous young
instrumentalists who are on their way up. With Champs Hill Records
we're also keen to present relatively little-known music that
is unlikely to stand a chance with the big labels."
With this latest release they have succeeded admirably on every
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