Hearing Sergey Khachatryan's marvellous new Brahms recording sent me back to this equally fine one of Shostakovich. He really plays superbly well on this disc, fully bearing out the impresssion he makes live in both these concertos. You feel moved and elevated by the playing; no. 1 must surely be considered one of the greatest 20th century concertos, and certainly one of the most searching. The first violin entry is magical in its hushed, fragile quality, but the second movement is thrilling in the extreme and the cadenza the most powerful of any concerto, I think. Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto can match it for colossal display, but this is the one that makes the solo instrument the repository for the composer's inner life in the most moving way.
on 11 March 2013
This review is a response to parts of Scott Morrison's good review.
I find it really tiresome and annoying that critics invariably recognize a portrait of Stalin in every more agressive and "grotesque/garish" movement by Shostakovich. This "savagery" is, I think part of the composer's own personality. One encounters this bitter sarcasm in in so many of his works, even those that he composed before he got into trouble with Pravda. It must therefore be an integral part of his own "soul". His relationship to the Soviet regime also was not as one-sided as some of his biographers would like us to believe. Contunuously attributing the "brutal" aspects of his music to his reaction to the situation in the Soviet Union is a gross simplification and detracts from the intrinsic character of his music. Lionized and mythologized in the West and victimized in the East. It is really time to disentangle Shostakovich from the cold war and listen to his great music for what it is. In addition I cannot hear anything in the scherzo which could even remotely be a portrait of Stalin. This is utter nonsense in my opinion but listen to it and decide for yourself. It is clearly derived from Russian folk-music, which is often "earthy" and "rough". Actually I find parts of it witty rather than threatening.
One final thought: I have just been listening to Shostakovich's opera "Lady Macbeth of ...." compsed in 1934. Incredible violence and a brutal and grotiesque depiction of sex. This IS Shostakovich himself do you really think that it is also a depiction of Stalin and the situation in the Soviet Union??? Come on!