7:57am

Tue May 13, 2014
Classical

Following Release of 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1, Gil Shaham Plays Berg at Carnegie Hall (May 18)

Following his “ravishing account” (New York Times) of Korngold with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall this past March, Avery Fisher Prize-winner Gil Shaham returns to the New York venue to reprise his celebrated rendition of Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Mariss Jansons (May 18), before joining the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas to play Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 at Davies Symphony Hall (June 12–15). Both concertos are among those showcased in the Grammy Award-winning violinist’s multi-season exploration of “Violin Concertos of the 1930s,” which recently yielded its first recording, 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1, featuring examples by Barber, Berg, Stravinsky, Britten, and Hartmann. The New York Times heralded the double album as “the first document of a major musical project,” and Norman Lebrecht welcomed it as “an essential adjunct to our understanding of the era” (Sinfini Music). As for the master violinist’s performances, Gramophone magazine named the set its “Editor’s Choice,” while Limelight observed: “Shaham embraces the five very different idioms of these works with amazing aplomb. … Be transported.

Since its launch in 2009, the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” project has been recognized by the Los Angeles Times as “a terrific programming idea” that Musical America calls “one of the most imaginative programming concepts in years.” Conceived when Shaham realized how many great 20th-century violin concertos were composed during the same fateful decade, the project has allowed him to investigate the ways that so unprecedented a flourishing of concertos might shed light on the turbulent political events that witnessed their creation. As he admits, however, with a characteristic twinkle, “Maybe it’s also just an excuse to play some of my favorite music.”

Since its release this winter on the American master’s own Canary Classics label, 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 1 has been given a warm welcome. In Gramophone magazine, Rob Cowan observed: “What first struck me about this initial volume is how Shaham, a fine musician even 20 or so years ago, has matured as a player.” The violinist’s “edge-of-the-seat performance” (BBC Music magazine) of Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre proved “a revelation” (Diapason, France), Limelight found him “marvelous” in Stravinsky, Diapason pronounced his Barber “sublime,” and Gramophone considers his to be “one of the finest versions of Britten’s Concerto currently available.”

As for the violinist’s recording of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (“To the Memory of an Angel”) of 1935, Limelight reports: “Shaham rides the emotional waves of this most anguished of concertos with great sensitivity and, in the final pages, his magical violin sound hovers like the angel of the title over the orchestra.” Classica confirms:

At the peak of this collection, the concerto To the Memory of an Angel, the bow caresses more than it bites. … The overall tone is so lyrical, the musical portrait so subtly contained…that listeners follow the soloist without a moment’s hesitation.” 

Shaham is currently serving as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s 2013-14 Artist-in-Residence, and after revisiting Berg’s concerto with the Grammy Award-winning orchestra at Carnegie Hall under the leadership of BRSO Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons, he reunites with the ensemble at its Munich home to play Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (1937-38) – another of those composed shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War – with Yannick Nézet-Séguin (June 26 & 27). Since his landmark recording of the concerto with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony in 1999, Shaham’s interpretation of the concerto has continued to develop and mature, and after a recent live account with the Los Angeles Symphony, the Los Angeles Times discovered:

“There was a sense of playfulness now in Shaham’s Bartók that wasn’t there before, shedding just the right bit of polished sheen in his tone at appropriate moments, reveling in the sound of surprise with bursts of power and the quietest of pianissimos.” 

The violinist’s two BRSO dates bookend his upcoming engagement with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, with whom he reprises Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto (1935). It was with the same forces last June that Shaham proved himself “an exuberantly commanding soloist,” who kindled “hot fire” (Los Angeles Times) in Stravinsky’s concerto, and when Tilson Thomas led his performance of Prokofiev’s Second with the New World Symphony, the South Florida Classical Review reported:

“Shaham easily met the concerto’s virtuosic demands in a performance that banished literal routine in favor of interpretive risk. … Shaham’s light touch and flowing pulse captured the magic of one of Prokofiev’s most inspired creations and he brought plenty of sinew and fire to the more aggressive central episode. Prokofiev’s sense of ironic sarcasm propels the perpetual motion finale and Shaham allowed his sound to turn appropriately harsh, sailing through the darting off-kilter rhythms and pyrotechnical flights in the violin’s highest register with panache.”