Shostakovich Violin Concerto 1 with Daniel Hope
Last week was a difficult one for me. On Monday I fell off my bicycle, cut my knees, grazed my left hand, my left elbow, both of my feet (no idea how that happened) and worst of all, put a little hole in the knee of my favourite black jeans.
On Wednesday, as a result of an overly enthusiastic up bow crescendo that got a little out of control, I managed to move my A string several millimetres to the left along the bridge and took a chunk out of the string binding. Then on Sunday, while on the Cardiff Bay barrage revising for my upcoming OU History exam (argh!), I got woefully sunburnt, proving once again that Irish skin should never be exposed to temperatures in excess of 10 degrees.
However, in the middle of all this woe there was Daniel Hope playing Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. I was rota'd off, so had the opportunity to listen. It dramatically improved my week.
Many people find this concerto disconcertingly bleak. To be fair, the first movement is not exactly sunbeams and fairies, but as it was composed during the period of Zhdanov's persecution of many Russian artistic figures, I don't think these sentiments were high up Shostakovich's emotional spectrum at the time of its composition.
The second movement can be described in no way other than demonic, and frankly, I think I would need a little lie down after playing it - it demands such stamina from soloist and orchestra! The Passacaglia is heart rending and the extended solo cadenza bridging the third and fourth movements (surely large enough in scope to almost be considered a separate movement in its own right) doesn't so much give way to the finale as it crashes headlong into it. The full throttle finale feels as much like a race to the death as it does a race to the end.
Having recorded this work in 2006 with our colleagues at the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Hope is obviously exceedingly familiar with both of Shostakovich's violin concertos. However, at no point did this feel like a mundane repetition of a work trawled out for the umpteenth time.
Daniel has amazing technical facility, but that's not what made his playing of this concerto so satisfying for me. He took risks. Instead of a concerto performance that simply begged to be admired for its technical prowess, what we got was an interpretation that genuinely took the audience on a journey. I know that's a cliché, but sometimes clichés become clichés because they're true.
Mr Hope's playing reminded me that I want to take risks with my own playing. It's not enough to play the notes on a page, these are only the composer's blue print. Rather, we have to strive and strive to find the soul behind the music, no matter whether the work be a Bach suite, a brand spanking new contemporary work, a mammoth of the symphonic canon, or a heart wrenching concerto such as Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto.