Edward Bhesania hears the performance of Hindemith, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev and Ustvolskaya at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 19 April 2023
Hindemith’s Violin Concerto is so rarely heard in concert, it’s hard to believe it was ever championed by figures such as David Oistrakh and Midori. Gil Shaham made a compelling case for the work, which was the centrepiece of a typically thoughtful programme by Jurowski and the LPO. Written just before Hindemith left Nazi Germany for Switzerland, the concerto is fiercely demanding for the soloist – not least in the finale’s cadenza – but Shaham, playing from the score, tackled even its most finger-twisting and vertiginous writing with flair and class. Energetic as his playing was, the sound was never forced, and the second movement especially drew playing of impassioned lyricism.
Beyond all this, Shaham took constant and genuine delight in the orchestral sections when not himself playing. The encore – Scott Wheeler’s Isolation Rag, written for Shaham during the 2020 lockdown – lightened the tone, but wasn’t fun or rag-like enough to be a party piece, despite its cheeky quote from Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto.
The LPO players matched Shaham in precision and range of colour, qualities that also benefited Galina Ustvolskaya’s bleak, unsettling Symphonic Poem no.1 and Prokofiev’s Symphony no.6, both written within 20 years of the Hindemith, and together forming a richly varied musical snapshot of the mid-20th century.