Ilya Kaler's performances of these two wildly different but equally beautiful and dark concertos are just about flawless. While he is capable of imbuing his tone with a rich sonority, he is not afraid to sound slightly astringent when the occasion calls for it. His reading of the second concerto's powerful cadenza is a case in point: brilliantly phrased, ferociously executed and played with compelling conviction, it is a thrilling demonstration of Kaler's formidable skill. The first movement of the first concerto is also especially memorable, particularly because of the sensitivity and fervour with which Kaler controls the music's nocturnal tension. As a matter of fact, he plays both concertos with seemingly remarkable ease, though this is not to suggest that he scamps them. Far from it: his playing is unremittingly virtuosic and, at times, even poignant. When Shostakovich asks for briskness in a seemingly Mahlerian folk melody, Kayer delivers with infectious energy. Similarly, when anguished reflection is required, he plays with a focused sense of direction and despair. As far as I am concerned, his playing is almost second to none. Oistrakh is perhaps the only real contender, and he should be too, seeing as Shostakovich originally dedicated the second of these concertos to him. Furthermore, Naxos's sound recording is immaculate, though some might take issue with the fact that the violin is slightly too close-miked, a problem which many recordings of violin concertos have.
The only qualm I have is with the orchestra's occasionally perfunctory support. Though Antoni Wit is undoubtedly a great conductor, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is merely competent, lacking the technical flair and impact of world-class ensembles. Their playing is less convincing than it should be in some places- it could be more frenetic in some places and more full-blooded in others- but these shortcomings do not detract from these performances in any serious way. At the end of the day, this is a first-class Naxos release which receives my unreserved recommendation.