These recordings were originally released on RCA Victor/BMG Classics, though I was not aware of this and could not find any reviews of the recordings. The performances here showcase the talents of Jaap van Zweden as violinist, who is familiar now to listeners as music director of the Dallas Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Before beginning his career as a conductor in 1995, he was the concertmaster of the Concertgebouw and also performed and recorded various violin concertos, sonatas and other works. The recordings were taken from concerts, although the Shostakovich was taken down partly in the studio and partly in the concert hall. One is aware of an audience during both performances, somewhat damaging especially at the beginning of the quiet Rihm piece. Both performances are followed by applause. That for the Shostakovich is immediate and vociferous; after the Rihm there are several seconds of audience rustling before the more tepid applause begins. This is due to the nature of the work - the audience not being sure that it had concluded - rather than the performance per se
Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is one of the most popular twentieth-century works in the genre and has received a good number of excellent recordings. Van Zweden’s account here does not disappoint. He is a marvellous violinist and has the measure of the score. Compared to two of my favourites, Maxim Vengerov with Rostropovich and the London Symphony (Warner) and Lydia Mordkovitch with Neeme Järvi and the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos), van Zweden and de Waart are less intense, more lyrical and warmer. Yet, there is nothing lax in the second movement Scherzo
where they are incisive, and the sound is very clear with orchestral detail coming through well. So it goes for the remainder of the work where there is a good balance between the lyrical and the dramatic. As a live account, this is quite satisfying. If I had attended their concert, I would be very happy to have this recording as a memento. However, it in no way supersedes either Vengerov or Mordkovitch, whose extra intensity and idiomatic Russianness are not to be gainsaid. Furthermore, their accounts come with the most logical of disc-mate, namely the Shostakovich Second Violin Concerto.
It is quite a shock to turn to Wolfgang Rihm’s Time Chant
after the Shostakovich here. Where the latter is all drama and dynamism, Rihm’s work is quite the opposite: largely static, with several dramatic outbursts by the orchestra. I did not know what to make of it at first, but now that I have listened to it a few times I am getting to appreciate it. Van Zweden performs it well enough until one turns to its dedicatee, Anne-Sophie Mutter, where her extra intensity really pays off, bringing the work to life in a way that van Zweden only approaches but does not attain. Much of the violin writing is high lying and quiet, but intense, like one sustained and flowing melody, where the orchestra punctuates the soloist’s address with the brass and woodwinds. A sort of climax is reached when the percussion enters shortly before a second movement begins. There is only a slight pause after the first movement and only one track for the entire work on this recording. Mutter’s was divided into two tracks, one for each movement. Since the work is more or less seamless, it really makes little difference whether or not there are separate tracks. The companion on Mutter’s disc was the Berg concerto, arguably a more suitable accompaniment to the Rihm than the Shostakovich. I could also imagine the Rihm on the same disc with Gubaidulina’s Offertorium
with which it has more in common.
Nonetheless, if one wants a good indication of van Zweden’s violin talents in twentieth-century music, this disc does provide that. As I mentioned above, the recorded sound for the Rihm at times betrays its live provenance. As usual with Naxos, the presentation is fine with substantial notes on the works by Paul Conway.
Masterwork Index: Shostakovich violin concerto 1