The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: An impressive pairing of two of Shostakovich’s darkest masterpieces
Musicians: Sayaka Shoji (violin) Ural Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Liss
Composer: Shostakovich

Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji took first prize at the 1999 Paganini Competition, and her teachers have included Zakhar Bron and Shlomo Mintz. She approaches these Shostakovich warhorses with poise and fearsome technical proficiency, spinning out the opening of no.1’s Nocturne with a perfectly judged sense of line, digging deep to find the desolation at its heart. She is razor-sharp in the anarchic scherzo, with a piercingly brilliant tone in the violin’s high, skipping theme. The Passacaglia is deeply felt and affecting, though she does occasionally have a tendency to race through the longer notes, and she drives through to a spirited and incisive finale.

The Second Concerto is just as assured. The double-stopped melodies of the opening movement’s cadenza are played with mellifluous ease. The Adagio is finely shaped and the sardonic finale shimmers with vitality and brilliance, with a fiery cadenza. The Ural Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitri Liss gives solid and well-polished back-up, and recorded sound is bright and generally good, although there’s often a slight rasp on Shoji’s lower strings. This is an impressive showing but for me doesn’t quite fulfil its promise – as a whole it lacks the emotional weight and passionate intensity of Daniel Hope’s Warner Classics recording.

Catherine Nelson