New interpretations bring a youthful sense of discovery 20 years on

Beethoven Shaham

Gil Shaham: Brahms, Beethoven

The Strad Issue: May 2021

Description: New interpretations bring a youthful sense of discovery 20 years on

Musicians: Gil Shaham (violin) The Knights/Eric Jacobsen

Works: Brahms: Violin Concerto. Beethoven: Violin Concerto

Catalogue number: CANARY CLASSICS CC20


Gil Shaham’s DG recording of the Brahms Concerto has long been a favourite for its uncanny combination of thrust and soul. Two decades on, his new recording with Brooklyn collective The Knights for orchestral backing, feels like the work of a younger man. The sweet tone Shaham gets from his 1719 Stradivari remains as distinctive as ever, but is more prone to tweeting than singing in some of the first-movement figurations. The orchestra’s mobile accompaniment extends to the slow movement, perhaps the most successful of all in its avoidance of nostalgia and discovery of something else as a valid replacement. Still, some soul is missing in this more classical reading, which just occasionally feels impatient.

There’s a penetrating booklet note full of technical insight by Styra Avins, which illustrates the far weightier technical challenges in the Brahms in comparison to the Beethoven, and often in apparently slower music. The essay is worth paying for by those considering playing these pieces, but the disc is made truly competitive by a highly refreshing performance of the Beethoven Concerto. It’s here that the close but clear recorded sound serves the music best.

Again, Eric Jacobsen’s orchestra is alert (and likewise, in a mobile Larghetto with delectable lightness) and in the outer movements you hear the conversational exchange between its upper and lower parts. Shaham’s tone can cross from the sweet to the incisive, but he lays the mechanics of this music out with rare clarity, finding meaning in everything without feeling the need to project overt expression onto it. His first-movement cadenza is grainy, his pianissimos in the Larghetto intense but secure, and his finale full of patience.