First published in the Guardian on 11 May, 2017
Shostakovich/Gubaidulina: Violin Concertos
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Lamsma/Gaffigan/Leeuw (Challenge)
Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma pairs concertos by Shostakovich and Sofia Gubaidulina, composers who both earned disfavour from the Soviet regime, who both use the solo violin to articulate deeply personal tenderness and torment. Lamsma is a terrific player with a beautiful, resilient sound, but at times that beauty is her handicap: she doesn’t do ugly or grim, which makes her interpretations of this dark music feel like a gloss. In Shostakovich’s First Concerto — composed in the late 1940s, laced with venom, suffused in angst — she’s not insistent enough in the tugging theme of the Passacaglia. In Gubaidulina’s In Tempus Praesens — an even darker work, if that’s possible; at one point the orchestra effectively crucifies the violinist with violent stabs — she holds her own defiantly, but again, the delivery is unfailingly gleaming. The orchestra sounds broad and a little unfocused conducted by James Gaffigan in the Shostakovich and by Reinbert de Leeuw in a live performance of the Gubaidulina, page-turns and all.