Gil Shaham Performs Sibelius and Tchaikovsky

Gil Shaham performs the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos

When I last counted, there were 16 different recordings of the Sibelius violin concerto, performed mostly by contemporary violinists, as well as a few notable others, such as Heifetz and Oistrakh. And why not? It’s an amazing composition!

Sibelius was a violinist, himself. And he knew quite well how to create a challenging work that only the very top soloists in their field could master. Sibelius completed the piece in 1903, and it is interesting to note that the first performance was conducted by non other than Richard Strauss, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra’s concertmaster, Karel Halir was the soloist.

This concerto is filled with virtuosic pyrotechnics that only a violinist could create. At the same time, it contains many wonderful lyrical sections as well. Right at the beginning of the first movement, we hear this hauntingly beautiful melody played by the solo violin, and later the clarinet and other woodwinds join in. The development that follows is filled with beautiful, yet very difficult sections that only a master violinist can handle. The second movement is very lyrical, and the concluding 3rd movement is again filled with very challenging part for the soloist. While the movement is titled by the composer “Ma Non Tanto” (not too fast), I suspect that today’s violinists try to show the public just how fast they can do it; and Shaham is no exception. He does achieve spectacular results!

The Tchaikovsky concerto was composed 25 years earlier (in 1878), and the premier was performed by the violinist Adolph Brodsky in 1881. This work has become a standard in every violinist’s repertoire. My personal favorite is the work’s second movement, which is one of the saddest and most haunting things that Tchaikovsky ever wrote. Shaham and the London Philharmonia Orchestra do a terrific job in bringing us this wonderful composition.

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