Bruckner: Symphony No. 4. Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Vonk. PentaTone. $11.99.
Gang Chen and Zhanhao He: The Butterfly Lovers—Concerto for Violin; Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto. Gil Shaham, violin; Jonathan Fox, gu ban; Nella Hunkins, cello; Ta Jin, flute; Gulia Mashurova, harp; Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lan Shui. Canary Classics. $16.99.
There is at least as much attention on the performers of the music on these CDs as there is on the music itself. Listeners interested in particular performers’ styles will generally give the recordings higher marks than those seeking enlightenment from the music; but both the CDs are more than respectable performances on all levels, and both showcase some interesting aspects of the performer-recording relationship.
Hans Vonk conducted the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1996 to 2002, when he resigned as his medical condition – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – continued to worsen. Vonk (1942-2004) had never before been music director of an American orchestra: he had led ensembles in
In a different way, you’ve got to admire what violinist Gil Shaham has done to make sure his own recordings are presented just as he wants them to be: he has started his own CD company. It is called Canary Classics, both for the canary’s sweet voice and because “canar” is the Hebrew word for violinist. Shaham himself is firmly at the center of the company, as is clear from the new release pairing a well-known European violin concerto with one that is extremely well-known in
The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has high points as well but is, all in all, less successful. There is an oddity in the recording here: when playing without the soloist, the orchestra sounds full and strong, but whenever Shaham plays, his violin is so firmly front-and-center that the orchestra seems to have retreated to a different room. This creates some real peculiarities of sonic balance. In the performance itself, the first movement is impressive, as Shaham takes a very capital-R Romantic view of the music, with lots of rubato (although not a lot in any one place). The result is an interesting performance but not a particularly perceptive one. The second movement, rather oddly, is not very small-r romantic, although it does sound pretty. And in the finale, Shaham could perhaps have used someone else as the boss to tell him to watch his playing. The fast passagework is rather slurred and sloppy, and the movement as a whole is more superficial than it needs to be. This is by no means a poor performance – and the orchestra, when playing in the clear, is really excellent – but this is not a CD to buy for Shaham’s Tchaikovsky. It is, however, one to buy in order to become familiar with the fascinations of The Butterfly Lovers.