Two crucial decades and 30 opus numbers separate the violin concertos that Dimitri Shostakovich wrote for the great David Oistrakh.

The first dates from 1948, a period of political and personal oppression for the composer. This score is fuelled by a singular blend of the bleak and passionate from the edgy, wandering melodies of its opening Nocturne to the grim, runaway circus of its final Burlesque.

Frank Peter Zimmermann, in this new recording with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester under Alan Gilbert, has cast aside the romanticism with which Oistrakh sugared this concerto and reveals all its whispered, chilling secrets.

From the very beginning, wild sliding portamenti reveal the German violinist as a virtuoso with attitude, sustained through a gripping cadenza that returns to the composer's manuscript to a blistering finale, supported by Gilbert and his musicians in what must have been a thrilling Hamburg concert.


The second concerto, from 1967, was written for Oistrakh's 60th birthday. The Russian singled it out for praise, especially for its tautness and the way in which Shostakovich never repeated himself, as the power, emotion and ideas from his pen overflowed into new forms.

The heartrending lyricism of the first movement harbours exquisite ensemble playing between Zimmermann and individual orchestral instrumentalists; the expansive Adagio aptly presents the composer as a melancholic Slavic soul brother of Brahms.

Changing Strads for the second concerto may simply have been the result of two concerts three years apart. However, listening to the 1967 finale, Zimmermann's 1713 violin delivers its gnarly yet glittering Allegro as if it had been made by Stradivari all those centuries ago for just that purpose.

What: Shostakovich, Violin Concertos 1 & 2 (BIS, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: A dark, bleak history unfolds in superb Shostakovich