Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No. 1 [38:30]
Violin Concerto No. 2 [30:58]
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. City Hall, Glasgow, October 1989
CHANDOS CHAN10864X [69:40]

Officially, this CD is part of the Chandos “Lydia Mordkovitch Tribute”, but its presentation is unfussy and the Tribute aspect does not get in the way. Most importantly, it does not distract from a pair of really superb performances of the Shostakovich concertos. Mordkovitch (1944-2014) knew and loved this music, and her partnership with Järvi and the SNO — as it then was — produced a first rate disc of these concertos.

It is, in fact, the orchestra whose contribution is the most instantly impressive. They — and Järvi — judge the darkly exotic atmosphere of the first movement just right, and they create a moody palette over which Mordkovitch sings an endless, meandering melody. The violin gleams against the dark backdrop and never quite loses its bel canto quality. It's a marvellous balancing act, which continues into the scherzo as the flutes and bass clarinet burble along comically below a violin which seems to be striking its name into a piece of stone, so determined is Mordkovitch's playing. Järvi sounds as though he is having tremendous fun with the Klezmerish second subject, and the violin responds with filigree dartings all over the shop. The Passacaglia, surely one of Shostakovich's greatest creations, carries sustained intensity from both conductor and orchestra, and is deeply emotionally involving, speaking of great involvement from the performers. Mordkovitch plays the cadenza like a deeply soulful Russian song, with all the suggestive subtlety of an interpretative genius, before bursting into a finale that takes no prisoners in its hell-for-leather energy.

The Second Concerto, too, is characterised by a singing quality from the violin, right from the opening solo which becomes a pouring out of heartfelt melody rather than a bleak appraisal of the darkness of life. Instead, Mordkovitch taps into the composer's rich cantabile vein, which makes its dissolution even more shocking, those double-stops sounding like something gone terribly awry. The blend with the rest of the orchestra is also wonderful, and the important role of the solo horn feels very well integrated. There is then a proper sense of harum-scarum to the finale, perhaps even more so than in the first concerto because this time there is a profound sense of irony to the music, which both soloist and conductor embrace wholeheartedly. All of this means that the curdled grin of death is never too far away, but hides behind a blackly sarcastic mask of enforced jollity. It's a performance that is exciting, emotional and never less than involving. Mordkovitch feels her way delicately around the main theme of the slow movement, duetting with the various orchestral soloists in a most appealing way, taking the music forward gently and cooperatively.

The sound is mostly excellent, my only criticism being that the tom-tom strokes in the second concerto's first movement sound a little indistinct, and rather too similar to pizzicato cellos in places. Otherwise, everything is fine and there is a lot of air around the sound, even if the brass are a shade recessed in places. The presentation — unfussy, as I said — contains useful essays about the music, as well as performer biographies. If you’re looking for both concertos on a single disc then this one is up there with the best.

Simon Thompson

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