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Composed almost 20 years apart, the two violin concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich were both conceived with the great violinist David Oistrakh in mind and dedicated to him. Shostakovich completed Concerto No. 1 in 1948, at a time when he had fallen out of grace with the Soviet authorities and it seemed uncertain if the work would ever be performed in public. This is reflected in the concerto which begins with a dark and solitary violin song over gloomy cellos and double basses. Throughout the work there are allusions to the composer’s situation, such as the D-S-C-H motif that appears in so many of his works and which in the second movement is closely related to a theme reminiscent of Jewish popular music, as a symbol of Shostakovich’s identification with the sup¬pressed Jewish culture. In the same movement there is also a theme derived from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk which in 1936 had caused the composer’s first denunciation by the Soviet regime.
In 1967 Shostakovich wrote to Oistrakh, telling him about the completion of his Violin Concerto No. 2. The composer’s health had been failing for several years, and only the year before he had suffered a heart attack. In several of his late works there is a preoccupation with mortality, and the concerto exhibits a similar dark, introspective tone, especially in the central Adagio.
Performing these two great works of the mid-20th century is one of the finest violinists of our own time, Frank Peter Zimmermann. The recordings were made at public concerts at the Hamburg Laeiszhalle, with the eminent support of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – formerly known as the NDR Sinfonieorchester – conducted by Alan Gilbert, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor for more than a decade.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77
I. Nocturne: Adagio
II. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo
III. Passacaglia: Andante
IV. Burlesca: Allegro con brio
Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 129
III. Adagio - Allegro
“[The First Concerto] will raise eyebrows. It’s fast…it certainly makes you sit up and hear this concerto in a new light…Zimmerman pursues the Passacaglia’s cantabile line with lyrical ease but can also produce a darker, uglier sound when appropriate, spitting ferociously in the Scherzo and producing icy glissandos...[and he does] conjure up impish colour in the nose-thumbing Burlesque”
“[these recordings] stand out as formidable achievements. They match technical mastery at the highest level with profound insight. No less impressive is the compelling interaction between Zimmermann and the excellent NDR Elbphilharmonie under Alan Gilbert, a crucial component in music that is so symphonic in design”
28th February 2017
“Stunningly performed and recorded, Zimmermann’s inspiring release on BIS deserves substantial praise.”
“Zimmermann brings a touch of warmth, even of Romantic sensibility, to the opening of Shostakovich’s First Concerto, with little portamentos are positions change and moments of supercharged vibrato. By some alchemy this serves to emphasise the prevailing bleakness. The music proceeds with purpose where other players linger and muse.”