Ittai SHAPIRA (b.1973)
Violin Concertos
The Old Man and the Sea, for violin and orchestra (2011) [23:17]
Concierto Latino, for violin and orchestra (2008) [26:08]
Caprice Habañera, for solo violin (2010) [3:03]
Ittai Shapira (violin)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Neil Thomson
London Serenata/Krzysztof Chorzelski
The Friary, Liverpool, 5 January 2012; St Paul's, New Southgate, London, 26 March 2010 (Concierto); Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, England, August 2010 (Caprice). DDD
Israeli-American violinist Ittai Shapira's own Concierto Latino has already appeared once on disc - it was Champs Hill indeed who released it last year as a CD 'single' (see review). This is the very same recording, repackaged and coupled with Shapira's latest violin concerto and a short encore piece.
Shapira has made several 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. This is his first full-length monograph as a composer, but Champs Hill have already released another disc of Shapira as soloist: a programme of 'American Violin Concertos', featuring classics by Barber and Menotti, plus a new one, dedicated to Shapira, from the very much alive Theodore Wiprud (CHRCD 043).
Shapira's Concierto Latino is a memorably orchestrated, romantic modern masterpiece of its kind, full of imagination, passion and beautiful melody. Shapira wrote it after being mugged, of all things, by a gang of thugs 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 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, but solemn contemplation soon returns, before yielding to a beautiful melody which, according to the notes, indicates "resignation and, ultimately, acceptance". Throughout 'Lament' in particular Shapira plays with great expression - the music clearly kindles deep feelings. His recovery from the assault is celebrated in 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, from Shapira's finely intoned, virtuosic violin to bring the work to a vivacious conclusion.
The CD opens, however, with Shapira's new Violin Concerto, The Old Man and the Sea, a work which takes its title from the Ernest Hemingway novella. Despite a programmatic parallelism, in Shapira's version there is happily no macho barbarity, or what the booklet notes call "unflinching yet beautiful detail". Shapira focuses instead on the vastness and hardness of the sea, and on the majesty and ferocity of the marlin and shark. The listener gets twenty-five minutes of orchestral drama and virtuosic violin-work, not to mention a boatload of audience-friendly melody splashed with local Caribbean colour. Shapira rounds off his recital with a short, Wieniawski-style Caprice Habañera.
Shapira insists in the booklet notes that his musical influences have been not only Villa-Lobos, Manuel de Falla and Osvaldo Golijov, but also the more unlikely likes of the Buena Vista Social Club and the Colombian pop singer known as Shakira. She is no relation and thankfully there is not the merest trace of any such influence in these works, in which Shapira rather harks back to the great virtuosic-dramatic violin concertos of earlier times, but without ever sounding old-fashioned.
As a performer of his own works - though Champs Hill oddly omit to state explicitly who the violinist is in these recordings! - he is naturally in his element, and is given tremendous support from the two ensembles, one famous, one much less so. London Serenata do not in fact get a mention in the notes, but if it is any consolation to them, whoever they may be, neither do the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic! There is, however, plenty on Shapira and both conductors. Krzysztof Chorzelski is better known as the Belcea Quartet's violist. Sound quality is good, if a little lacking in depth and clarity, and the booklet glossy and informative, albeit the notes do tend towards melodrama.
Those who wisely purchased Shapira's single will feel slightly aggrieved at paying full price for what amounts to a mere 27 minutes of music. Even those new to all three works will probably wonder why another of Shapira's works for violin could not be recorded to fill up the disc a bit. The best value for money is undoubtedly a download - just over £2 for The Old Man and the Sea from Amazon, and just a little more direct from Champs Hill, for example.
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A memorably orchestrated, romantic modern masterpiece, full of imagination, passion and beautiful melody.