February 2009

Elgar - Violin Concerto in B minor
Gil Shaham, violin; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman cond.
Canary Classics CC06
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Gil Shaham created his own recording label, Canary Classics, in 2004 so that he can choose the music he wants to record and the companions with whom he wants to perform it. In this case, he and David Zinman respond on an exceptional level to the intensity and urgency of Elgar’s big concerto, relishing their informed give-and-take and emphasizing momentum and substance while absolutely avoiding anything that might smack of indulgence. What a vital and rewarding piece it is, after all, when brought off as it is here, without a single phrase that leaves the performers or the listener less than fully and happily engaged.

To report that this performance is alive is by no means merely to acknowledge that it was made during an actual concert (in February 2007), but that can hardly escape notice, because there is applause at the end. This continues to be a matter of some controversy, as live recordings become more and more frequent. There are those who feel that including the applause preserves the feel of a live event; others, however, feel that one of the tradeoffs offered by recordings is a level of intimacy that is a valid option to the participatory atmosphere of "being there," and that the celebratory response that makes the audience part of the event in the hall becomes just a nuisance that breaks the mood for the solitary listener at home.

Personally, I’d have preferred this exceptionally persuasive performance without the applause, but it is exceptionally persuasive, and the recorded sound itself conveys both its warmth and its vigor superbly.