The Times Review: Decca Classics/ Glazunov/ Shostakovich Album ★★★★☆

★★★★☆ The Times and The Sunday Times Album Review: Shostakovich/ Glazunov Concertos / Richard Morrison

This riveting performance of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto (released on July 1) is Nicola Benedetti’s best recording to date. The work is a colossal emotional challenge, as well as being technically fiendish. Written in the late 1940s during one of the Soviet Union’s perennial purges on music deemed too progressive or insufficiently optimistic, it was wisely suppressed by the composer until after Stalin’s death in 1953.

The eerie Nocturne, the frenetic “ride to the abyss” nature of the second and fourth movements, and most of all the central Passacaglia, freighted with references to Beethoven’s Fifth and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony; all this suggests a tormented man unflinchingly reflecting horrors that could not be named in words.

Well accompanied by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits, Benedetti captures all this with a stunning array of timbres — hoarse and whispery at first, as savage as a slashing razor in the scherzo, and vividly expressive in the massively demanding cadenza (after which the first performer, David Oistrakh, insisted that Shostakovich insert 16 bars of orchestral music to allow him to recover before the blistering finale). There’s a tiny bow tremor towards the end of the passacaglia that a bit of patching could have eliminated; otherwise this is an interpretation worthy to stand alongside Oistrakh’s classic recordings.

The “filler” is Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, sounding as if from another universe, though actually written less than half a century earlier in the same country. It’s a concerto for people who find Tchaikovsky too impassive; Benedetti does its schmaltzy lyricism proud…