Ittai SHAPIRA (b.1973)
Concierto Latino (2008) [26:04]
Ittai Shapira (violin)
London Serenata/Krzysztof Chorzelski
St Paul's, New Southgate, London, 26 March 2010. DDD

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 here and here, 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 level.

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Succeeds admirably on every level.