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Milton Moore: A masterpiece recording of a 20th Century masterpiece

By Milton Moore

Publication: theday.com

Published December 20. 2013 10:00AM   Updated December 20. 2013 1:16PM
Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, by Maxim Vengerov, Mstislav Rostropovich, London Symphony Orchestra

I received a review copy of this Teldec recording when it was released 20 years ago and raved about it. Since then, this recording has only grown on me and moved to the top of my personal playlist.

Shostakovich's self-suppressed concerto has always been associated with the muscular Soviet violinist David Oistrakh, the soloist to whom Shostakovich dedicated it, and his 1955 recording with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic had always been the benchmark … but a fairly low-fi, monaural benchmark.

This vivid Tedlec recording, coupled with a pair of inspired Russians in violinist Maxim Vengerov and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, argues the case that this concerto, a piece that Shostakovich dared not perform while Stalin was still alive, is in fact his masterpiece.

The mournful first movement that acts more of an introduction that a fully realized movement lays out most of the motifs that will return in new guises, and the demonic dance of a second movement, where Shostakovich's gift for vivid orchestration shines, lays out the material for the rest. Here you'll hear the stabbing violin figure that Bernard Herrmann expropriated for the shower scene in "Psycho."

But the beating heart of this concerto is the third movement Passacaglia, some of the beautiful and deeply affecting music Shostakovich wrote. This is clearly a tribute to those lost in The Horror, both utterly sorrowful and utterly noble. Vengerov's playing here is more heartfelt and less severe than Oistrakh's, and the effect is as big and direct as a rock anthem.

After a long, searching, even tortured cadenza in the solo violin, the final movement explodes to life. At first I was put off by the madcap craziness of the finale, but Shostakovich had done this before. After deep sorrow, a mad dance is the only escape.

It will leave you breathless…

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