Recordings such as this superb one serve to remind us that though we may think we know the output of the major composers, there are still treasures to be discovered. Works for individual instruments find their way into recital programs but often lie in shadow of the 'big works' for the concert.
Ondine's successful partnership with violinist Christian Tetzlaff continues with a new release. The new recording contains the two Violin Concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), two powerful works by the composer originally written for David Oistrakh. Christian Tetzlaff has been considered as one of the world's leading international violinists for many years, and still maintains a most extensive performing schedule. Musical America named him "Instrumentalist of the Year" in 2005 and his recording of the violin concertos by Mendelssohn and Schumann, released on Ondine in 2011 (ODE 1195-2), received the "Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik". Tetzlaff's recording of the Mozart Violin Sonatas (ODE 1204-2) was chosen Gramophone Magazine's Editor's Choice and Recording of the Month by the BBC Music Magazine. Tetzlaff's previous release on Ondine featuring the Schumann Violin Sonatas (ODE 1205-2) was also chosen Disc of the Month by the Gramophone Magazine.
James Ehnes, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its charismatic music director Kirill Karabits went directly to the studio to record these two great 20th-century concertos after performing them in concerts the Observer described as ‘extraordinary’. Of the Shostakovich, the paper went on to say ‘the brilliant James Ehnes … apparently encountering no technical problems in this hazardously difficult work, transmitted its mood of bitter melancholy and dry-eyed grief with alert, responsive support from the orchestra’.
This is the world premiere recording of Vasks' second symphony. It is a 40-minute, one-movement work which opens with a glorious bang, with the orchestra at its most powerful and busy. A few minutes in, Vasks offers us repose which is almost religious, there is a buildup and then more reflection, and a long crescendo to great might again. The work ends on a beautifully introspective, soft, haunting refrain. Vasks is primarily a Romantic, so the work is tonal; there are touches of Kancheli (but not as much breast-beating), Shostakovich (again, not as pessimistic).
Third release on Ondine by the Austrian star violinist Benjamin Schmid contains fresh arrangements of well-known piano pieces by Shostakovich and Prokofiev for violin and piano. Also included is a suite transcribed from Kurt Weill's iconic ‘The Threepenny Opera'. All the three original works by the composers were written during the 1910s and 1920s.
Wow! This is music making on a cosmic scale. You may hear some jaded critic offer up the following generic comment about this release: "These three players, gathered together for only the second time, naturally can't equal the subtle give and take of more established chamber ensembles." Bull. All three artists rank among the most inspirational and experienced chamber players of our time, and here they set the notes on fire in performances of shattering intensity, improvisational spontaneity, and (in the Tchaikovsky) Herculean grandeur. Argerich's performance of the concerto-like piano part of the Tchaikovsky Trio is especially impressive; she seems to know instinctively when to dominate the proceedings and when to let her partners take over; and the final "Theme and Variations"–a huge movement half an hour in length–seldom has sounded so cohesive and meaningful. As to the Shostakovich, well, what can I say? This is one of the most profoundly moving experiences in music, and how well this trio knows it! The three players find the perfect tempo for the third movement Passacaglia, then build the tragic finale as inexorably as fate itself.
'Drawing on archival performance footage and interviews, The Art of Violin evokes the vast panorama of the world of the violin in the 20th century and its most outstanding performers. ….it is hard to express the explosions of joy occasioned by the discovery of long sought-out but undreamed-of archives, such as some silent - and later resynchronised - film footage, or the few brief moments of Chausson's Poème played by Ginette Neveu, the silent yet moving (in every sense of the word) images of Kreisler and Ysaÿe, the awe of a young Menuhin, the superb single camera shot of David Oistrakh performing the cadenza from Shostakovich's First Concerto.'