SHOSTAKOVICH:  Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77.  Suite from Lady Macbeth von Mzensk (arr. James Conlon)
Vladimir Spivakov, violin/Gürzenich Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker; James Conlon, cond.
CAPRICCIO 10892 (F) (DDD) TT:  79:09


Volume 11/2 of Schwann/Opus listed 15 versions of this concerto, finished in January 1948, one month before Zhdanov's infamous "congress" chastising the USSR's leading musicians for "formalism" and other nebulous artistic crimes against the state. Shostakovich withheld it from performance until October 1955, more than 32 months after the death of his nemesis, Josif Stalin. But on February 10, 1948, he had to read a crow-eating statement obviously written by someone else (as his apologia in 1937 for Lady Macbeth had been ghosted).

In Volume 12 of Schwann/Opus, however - the terminal issue, printed in 2001 - 15 had become 13. Gone were versions by Boris Belkin, M. Fedotov, Midori (with Abbado and the Berlin Phil, recorded as recently as 1995), David Oistrakh (with Mravinsky and the Czech Phil), and Itzhak Perlman (with Mehta and the Israel Phil). But three had been added: Dmitri Sitkovetsky with Andrew Davis and the BBCSO on Virgin/EMI, and two by Oistrakh (in addition to his storied US-debut recording of January 2, 1956, with Mitropoulos and the NYPhil still on Sony) - both "new" ones with Mravinsky in Leningrad, one on the Prague label, the other on RCA Red Seal (perhaps the same 1956 recording). A fourth, "live" version with the BBCSO postdated the publication of Vol. 12).

Oistrakh was and remains the benchmark - although most persuasively in the NYP's "Historic Broadcasts" volume (review) played a day before their commercial recording. I retain great respect for Leonid Kogan with Kondrashin and the Moscow PO (formerly on Supraphon), and admire the best parts of Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's roller-coaster version with the composer's son and the London SO (coupled with the Barber Concerto on an EMI CD). Sorry, I don't know the versions of Vadim Repin (although I saw reviews praising it), Lillian Mordkovich, Maxim Vengerov with Rostropovich conducting, Ilya Kaler, or Sitkovetsy. Nor do I know how many can be found in the ruins of the classical record business that flourished in the '80s and '90s.

Spivakov - recorded live in Cologne on August 26-29, 2000 - is the most laid-back soloist I've heard in this music: technically authoritative to be sure, tonally elegant, but interpretively reined-in until the brief "Burlesque" finale, which comes a little late in the game. Good concert hall sound; but the eight-movement Lady Macbeth Suite conductor James Conlon fashioned in 1991 is far more vivid sonically, and a knock-out performance. I won't pretend to know the work in either complete version - the 1930-34 original that Stalin detested - and denounced two years after it had been playing in the Soviet Union - and abroad (including Cleveland, a concert performance under Artur Rodzinski), or Shostakovich's 1956-63 "revision" as Katerina Izmaylova. Neeme Järvi recorded a Lady suite during his Glasgow tenure for Chandos, and Rostropovich led "selections" with the Prague SO in 1996-99 for Supraphon, which I likewise don't know. But Conlon has made a chilling "synthesis" (as Stokowski used to call his conflations), thrillingly played, that whets the appetite for a complete version to replace EMI's of yore, when Galina Vishnevskaya's voice was wearing out, Nicolai Gedda was still singing, and Rostropovich conducted London forces in his fashion.

Is half a loaf better than none? Check with your broker if you're not acquainted with Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Spivakov notwithstanding, I want to keep Conlon's Lady, but Oistrakh/Mitropoulos and/or Oistrakh/Mravinsky are, despite their age, the versions to seek out if you want Violin Concerto No. 1. The Mitropoulos disc couples Cello Concerto No. 1 (with Rostropovich, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra). RCA Red Seal's 2-disc "Artist of the Century" tribute included the Second Violin Concerto, Beethoven's two Romances, Brahms' in D, and Mozart's First, K.207. The Prague set included Mravinsky performances of Symphonies 5, 6 , 11 and 12, Prokofiev's 6th, and Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - a multiple-disc set with, let me guess, 6 CDs.

R.D. (October 2002)