Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor – Nicola Benedetti, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (HD 1080p)

Italian-Scots violin soloist Nicola Benedetti performing Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77, with Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård. Recorded at Gothenburg Concert Hall on April 27, 2017.

As many know, Shostakovich wrote two violin concertos. But his work list suggests two separate versions of the First, the Op.77 and the Op.99. The Violin Concerto No.1 was originally completed in 1948, but withheld for seven years by the composer, owing to the oppressive climate for artists in the Soviet Union at the time. Any new work might have drawn the wrath of Stalin and his cronies in the arts. Shostakovich returned to the score in 1955 and then assigned the higher opus number to it. Actually, the only documented change he made came not as a result of second thoughts, but as a matter of consideration for the soloist. During rehearsals in 1955, the virtuoso violinist David Oistrakh requested of Shostakovich that the opening statement of the fourth movement's main theme be given to the orchestra, so that the soloist could take a rest following the long cadenza which leads right into the finale, and Shostakovich agreed to make the change.

The First Violin Concerto begins as a dark work, full of that gloom and dread that pervade so many of Shostakovich's serious works. The first movement Nocturne starts off with an ominous theme that is both inwardly reflective and filled with foreboding. Midway through, a thinly veiled Dies Irae appears as the music becomes more tense. Yet, a climactic release never quite arrives and the suggested conflicts remain unresolved.

The second movement is a rather diabolical Scherzo that contains some interesting allusions, first to the third movement of the Tenth Symphony (1953) and later to the first movement of the Second Piano Concerto (1957). The violin and woodwinds scurry about to deliver the playful yet menacing material, but gradually the character of the movement becomes more sarcastic, eventually breaking into a hallucinatory folk dance. The latter part of the Scherzo sounds less acidic, the diabolic and sarcastic elements surrender to the driving, insistent energy.

The third movement is a Passacaglia that has a chorale-like quality at the outset, as the woodwinds deliver a mournful theme. The violin enters playing the main theme, one of the composer's loveliest and warmest creations. Shostakovich's 1943 Eighth Symphony's fourth movement also featured a passacaglia, though of a decidedly grimmer character. Here, there is tension, but also much beauty. The latter third of the movement is taken up by a brilliant cadenza, which leads directly into the brief finale, a Burlesque of a mostly festive nature. The mood is similar to that of the faster music in the Tenth Symphony's finale, though there are no clear thematic references. While the work ends triumphantly, its manic qualities suggest a discomfort by the composer, as though the happy resolution might have been disingenuous.

Shostakovich eliminated trumpets and trombones from the orchestration of this Concerto, and his writing is otherwise sensitive to the limited tone of a solo violin playing amid a large ensemble. A typical performance of this work lasts about 35 minutes.

Source: Robert Cummings (

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

♪ Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77 (1947-1948)

i. Nocturne (Moderato)
ii. Scherzo (Allegro)
iii. Passacaglia (Andante)
iii(a). Cadenza
iv. Burlesque (Allegro con brio – Presto)

Nicola Benedetti, violin

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Thomas Søndergård

Gothenburg Concert Hall, April 27, 2017

(HD 1080p)

Italian-Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti followed in a long line of British Isles teenagers hailed as revitalizers of classical music. In advance of making any recordings whatsoever, she was signed to a six-album contract by the Universal label in January 2005 and assigned to its prestigious Deutsche Grammophon imprint, with a paycheck reportedly in excess of one million pounds (over $1,880,000). Benedetti diverged from predecessors like Vanessa-Mae and singer Charlotte Church, however, in that she stuck to traditional classical repertory and did not try to cross over into the pop world.

Born in 1987 in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, Scotland, Benedetti was the daughter of a prosperous Italian-born manufacturer of plastic cases for first-aid kits. When she was four, she tagged along with her eight-year-old sister Stephanie to a violin lesson and then took up the instrument herself; the two sisters remained close confidantes, and Stephanie has been active as an orchestral musician. Nicola attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in England's Surrey region, an institution whose music programs have recently produced Nigel Kennedy and other top-flight players. She gave performances at several top British concert halls, later moving to London to study with violinist Maciej Rakowski. When Benedetti was 14, she won a Prodigy of the Year contest on England's Carlton Television network. A hint of her potential crossover appeal came when she drew a crowd of 10,000 at the rock-oriented Glastonbury Festival's "classical extravaganza" in the summer of 2003. She told London's Independent newspaper, however, that "I have not ruled out different types of music but I was trained as a classical musician. I don't want to compromise what I do and what I love". At another stratum of British journalism, she told the Mirror that "I'm not really into clubbing and I've never smoked or drunk much – and I won't wear anything tarty".

Benedetti took a big step toward mainstream classical stardom when she won the BBC's Young Musician of the Year award in May 2004, performing Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1 and becoming the first Scot to take home the BBC prize. Over that summer she was featured on the cover of BBC Music, and she appeared with the Scottish Symphony and other top groups. With money and publicity coming her way, she was in a position to make the most of her talents. The Times of London forecast a promising future for the youngster, noting that "her poised handling of the whirlwind of fame and honeyed blandishments that came her way last year suggests that her youthful passion in performance is balanced offstage by a healthy streak of that quintessential Scottish trait – prudence". This led her to eventually slow down her performance schedule so that she could further her musical studies and her technique, confident that she would be a better overall musician for it, and determined to play what she loves. By the following decade, Benedetti's schedule was as full as ever, taking in a 2010 debut at the BBC Proms; chamber music recitals with her trio (Leonard Elschenbroich, cello; Alexei Grynyuk, piano) at European festivals; chamber and concerto performances in North America and Europe in 2011; a 2011 release on Decca (Italia); and visits to schools in the United Kingdom to encourage new talent. Released to coincide with a trio of performances at the 2012 BBC Proms, The Silver Violin – a collection of music made famous by the world of cinema – consolidated Benedetti's position as one of the most popular British violinists of her generation.

Source: James Manheim (

More photos

See also

Dmitri Shostakovich – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

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