CD Reviews and News
As you listen to this recording, it is easy to imagine that microphones were placed in Gil Shaham’s music room to eavesdrop as he amused himself playing through Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. The result is a performance where, in some unexpectedly fast tempos, he revels in his left-hand dexterity.
The word “inspired” cuts in several directions here, as both adjective and verb. Orli Shaham, herself inspired by Brahms’s sublime late piano pieces – intermezzos and the like — gives beautiful performances... everything here, in fact — with a knowing, feeling, proprietary air. A treasurable album, which alternately soothes and tickles the ears.
'Here is a unique take on the world of Bach. It’s Shaham’s choice of tempi that make the music appear in a whole new light: Shaham plays many of the movements faster than they are usually performed – in this way their structures and relationships become clearer, more convincing and easier to comprehend. The fugues streamlined and executed with the utmost lightness, sound arresting on first listen, but rarely have they been heard with such weightlessness. Almost casually, this Bach recording displays Shaham’s phenomenal violin technique, without which such an effortless realisation of the score would not be possible.'
J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin is full of fascinating details and insights. Shaham avoided performing these works for a long time, but now declares that “there is no greater joy than playing Bach.” This sense of joy does leap out at you from these performances, which are brisk and animated in superlative recorded sound.
Shaham has thought long and hard about these works (as an essay in the liner notes confirms) and his technique is flawless. He has a particular gift for ending each movement: thoughtful, and in apt conclusion to what has gone before.
...Shaham’s playing is so clean, clear and precise (and contained, within the cavernous shape of his 1699 Stradivari), and the thought behind everything he plays so unassailable, that to listen to it is to feel safe with music that its often manhandled, even if it is challenging to one’s perception of it.
Shaham does pull many of the phrases round to a risky degree but it never feels like the egomania of other performances (partly because there is no bending of the tuning) and this is an enormous relief... it is impossible to listen to it without having a positive artistic experience.
'Shaham opts for a more Baroque set-up with its distinctive timbre and lighter bow strokes, which wouldn't matter much if the musical approach wasn't so thoughtful, but it is. Shaham likes the way Bach's dance music swings with the slightly faster tempos... Musically I have been finding a lot to enjoy and admire in these performances... and quite serendipitiously a good choice for Bach's 330th birthday today.' Andrew McGregor, Presenter BBC Radio 3 CD Review.
Listen again CD Review on BBCiPlayer:
Gil Shaham talks with Boyce Lancaster from WOSU Public Media about his recording of J S Bach sonatas and partitas.
"When you record your outgoing message on your answering machine, and then you hear it back you think - oh, maybe I should do that again. That's really how I feel about all my recordings."
Listen to the complete conversation:
...he never loses sight of the fact that this is, fundamentally, dance-inspired music - particularly so in the case of the partitas. It's all too easy to adopt a reverent playing style when tackling cornerstones of Bach's output, and the sense of fun can sometimes be a casualty of this. Shaham's great achievement in these works is to put the dance back into the music.
The Boston Globe Shaham unleashed a full thespian arsenal on J.S. Bach's solo Partita in E major (BWV 1006): a swashbuckling Prelude; a Minuet delivered as a casual, conspiratorial aside; a magician's pause for effect after an ornamented flurry in the Gavotte.
The Stad (Gil Shaham live at Wigmore Hall) The high moment was Shaham alone, in the Bach D minor Partita: his warmth, honeyed tone, and beautiful sense of line were balanced with intelligent articulation, and the Chaconne radiated an uplifting, cathartic humanity. Gil Shaham live at Wigmore Hall STRAD
Baltimore Sun It's hardly news that Shaham is an impeccable violinist, one capable of bringing out the mechanics and the majesty of Bach in equal measure. Still, it was great to be startled all over again by the brilliance of his playing, the penetrating power of his interpretations…Shaham produced a clear and beautifully focused tone, even in the busiest passages. Intonation, despite the hothouse environment, held firm. Above all, he offered remarkable subtleties of expression.
Shaham’s rendition of the Barber concerto showcases his trademark rich soulfulness, as well as energy in the bustling sounds of urban America in the last movement. The lamenting lines of Berg’s concerto cut to the emotional core. The second album includes scintillating account of Stravinsky’s concerto and incisive playing in Britten’s concerto. An auspicious beginning.
The CD opens with Hallelujah Junction (1996), a two-piano piece by Adams performed by Shaham with Jon Kimura Parker. It is the most unassailably great work on the album, sharing the dynamism of Stumble to Grace with its vibrant rhythms and brilliantly interlocking chords. Parker and Shaham provide striking contrasts in articulation, moving from buoyant to smooth to jabbing. They also display impressive communication in navigating the complex and antagonistic network of rhythms. It ends in a vigorous display of obstinacy where both pianists attempt to go in different directions and refuse to acquiesce to the other’s wishes. After a harmonically crazed argument, they finally come to a grudging understanding for the last few chords. Stubbornness and exuberance are an essential combination in commissioning and performing new works, and Shaham nails it this CD.
John Adams's Hallelujah Junction, for two pianos, peals invitingly in its intricate opening, and from there over three movements and 16 minutes the listener is beguiled by pleasing harmonies, rhythms and exchanges while wondering about substance and direction; clever and appealing, though, with Orli Shaham and Jon Kimura Parker revelling in the interplay.
...Played continuously without pause, the 26-minute Stumble begins with a celesta lullaby and ends in the throes of an exhilarating triple fugue which includes in its midst what Mackey describes as 'thevarious stages of progress and regress in the physical and spiritual evolution of the piano.' And yet, for all the size and complexity of Mackey's impressive musical engine, the lasting impress is of authentic affection and love.
Shaham has innocent fun with Mackey's Sneaky March, brings an etheral beauty to John Adams's China Gates, and, with Jon Kimura Parker, intrepidly investigates the intersections of angularity and romanticism in Adams's Hallelujah Junction...
While some artists may cringe at having their performances appropriated for nuisance abatement purposes, the internationally-recognized Shaham saw an opportunity in the concept, and on Tuesday – April 1 – he released "Music to Drive Away Loiterers."
“What first struck me about this initial volume is how Shaham, a fine musician even 20 or so years ago, has matured as a player... his range of expression wider, more sensitive to the rise and fall of a phrase... this is a most distinguished release and I can't wait for the second instalment.”
'the focus on Korngold is an extension of Mr. Shaham's 1930s project, his look at the many violin concertos—including Berg, Stravinsky, Britten, Barber and Prokofiev —written during one decade. While the Korngold wasn't published until 1945, it bears traces of the '30s and may have been written then ... The focus on the turbulent decade might seem to clash with Mr. Shaham's genial personality. But the violinist has another side, said David Robertson, who conducted several concertos on Shaham's recent 1930s album ... "Because Gil seems to have such a beautifully sunny disposition, many people aren't aware of how deep a thinker he is about music," said Mr. Robertson, who is married to Mr. Shaham's sister, the pianist Orli Shaham. "When you are performing with him and right next to him, it's like looking down a well. The depth in that well is really profound.”
Adams works here [China Gates and the two-piano, four-hands Hallelujah Junction] have been recorded more than once before, but Shaham's interpretations of both are welcome additions to the discography. She and fellow keyboardist Jon Kimura Parker bring the kind of force and precision these intricate, passionate pieces demand.
The infancy of Mackey's son inspired this piece [Stumble to Grace], which gradually develops from the staggering first steps of the opening movement to a virtuosic fugue in the finale …
Gil Shaham's survey of violin concertos from the 1930s pairs the familiar with the fringe … Hartmann’s, fabulously delivered by Shaham and a Korean ensemble, is a near-masterpiece by an undervalued composer… Shaham performs with top orchestras – New York Philharmonic, Dresden Staatskapelle, Boston Symphony and BBC – and in excellent sound. His series promises to be an essential adjunct to our understanding of the era.
It took an artist’s intuition to register that most of the best modern concertos were composed in the 1930s, the darkest of decades. Hitler was rampant in central Europe, Stalin was murdering millions, Spain was riven by civil war and the world’s economy was in the dumps.
Gil’s first volume is my Album of the Week on sinfini.com. His recording of the Hartmann and Barber concertos are pretty much without equal.
'One of San Francisco's favorite violinists, Gil Shaham, joins his pianist sister Orli on this collection of Hebrew melodies. The title refers to Avner Dorman's Violin Sonata #3, Nigunim, which the Shahams jointly commissioned with the 92nd St. Y. Based on the common elements of Jewish melodies throughout the world, Dorman's sonata is filled with haunting multi-cultural beauty. It also seems right at home with works by Bonime, Achron, Zeitlin, Bloch (Baal Shem), and Williams (Schindler's List).'
'An entrancing and moving labour of love from Gil Shaham and his sister Orli, exploring Hebrew melodies. Bloch's Baal Shem beautifully played, but the lesser known pieces captivate.' ★★★★★'
'I can’t imagine a better performance of these works. There is no need to recount Gil Shaham’s devilish virtuosity. He plays with panache; however, it’s the expressivity that is the center-piece here...This album is full of that singular Jewish spirit, the sadness and the smile. It is heartfelt and profound.'
'… Gil Shaham plays it all with passionate intensity - or with folk-like simplicity as the occasion requires … recorded rather closely underlining the vocal quality of his playing…'
'The most talented brother-sister act in classical music today, Gil and Orli Shaham, have again joined forces for a recording, their sixth. This time, it’s “Nigunim: Hebrew Melodies”... Gil Shaham is one of the finest violinists in the world, Orli Shaham is a gifted pianist, and the siblings play well together, with a mutual sympathy that seems to be a combination of instinct and long practice. This is a lovely album, with a satisfying variety of composers writing in soulful, happily melancholy minor-key Jewish style'
'Gil Shaham plays both spectacularly and tenderly, and his accompanist sister, Orli Shaham, matches him closely in lyrical feeling and spontaneous bravura...All the performances are of the highest quality, sparkling with virtuosity, touching in their eloquence, and the recording is first-class. If you like Hebrew music, this is not to be missed.'
'...Gil Shaham has put together a programme of music that delves deep into the Jewish soul…. The Shaham's achieve overwhelming heights of expressiveness; Gil's tonal palette seems to know no limits … and Orli is with her brother every inch of the way…'
'Nigunim are Hebrew melodies, secular or religious, fast or slow for instrumental music-making... Gil gives us his extraordinary violin playing, Orli her vivid piano foundation in this collection of duo showpieces... Gil and Orli have brought together some wonderful examples that span the 19th century through to today... Wonderfully played, the pieces range from brief, single song arrangements like Joseph Achron's "Hebrew Melody, Op. 33" to longer suites like Ernst Bloch's "Baal Shem, Three Pictures of Chassidic Life," and the world premiere recording of Avner Dorman's Violin Sonata No. 3, which bears as sub-title "Nigunim". We get John William's "Three Piece Suite" from Schindler's List as well. And it is throughout very worthwhile music. With the duo in synch as they are, so attuned to the Hebrew nuances of the music, this is a stunning, landmark disk! No more need be said, except if you love the Hebrew strain of melody-harmony, you know this music well or not at all, you should not pass on this one. Fabulous!'
'…frenzied final movement [Dorman's Nigunim] is a virtuoso piece of astonishing fury from both performing musicians … one of the greatest recordings of Shaham's long career and one of the greatest intimate violin recordings anyone is likely to encounter in a while. Extraordinary.' ★★★★'
'Having gone to some length to establish the pedigree of the music on this recording, I must now observe that, in the words of the famous advertising campaign for Levy’s real Jewish Rye, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it... Violinist Gil seems to have an unquenchable thirst when it comes to learning new repertoire. Thus, each time he adds to his repertoire, he establishes a rhetoric for his performance that presents the novelty of the situation in a context informed by familiarity with the past. Thus, this new recording offers much by way of novelty but always in a context that one accepts as part of performing the repertoire of chamber music for violin and piano. The experience is accessible, rather than antagonistic; and, as a result, this recording is a real delight.'
'She’s superb.... and she makes a glowing case for Australian composer Ross Edwards’s Maninyas ... And it’s magnificently played by Anthony, whose athleticism in the faster sections is staggering... Anthony’s slow movement [Sibelius] is ecstatic, and she closes proceedings with a finale that’s infectious and ultimately thrilling... She’s superbly accompanied by Arvo Volmer’s Adelaide forces, and the recording is nicely balanced.'
'Throughout, Adele Anthony plays beautifully, with warm, luminous tone, and she's well supported by the Adelaide orchestra... Anthony has the measure of the Sibelius... playing with complete assurance, and her mellow tone is heard to splendid effect in the lyrical passages, above all in the Adagio...'
'... None of the above prepared me for the phenomenal quality of her playing of the Sibelius. I can honestly say I have never heard the work played before with such accuracy and apparent ease... As far as the performance of the solo part is concerned this would be my number one choice... Purchasers buying the disc for either work should be delighted with their ‘main’ choice but equally pleased with the remaining music....On the strength of her magnificent reading of the Sibelius Ms Anthony is a name I will actively seek out in the future.'
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
'I’m not sure if Australia and Finland are literally antipodean; even so, they could hardly be much further apart. So two violin concertos from different sides of the world could make an effective contrast, and in the event Ross Edwards’ 1988 concerto Maninyas (a word he invented to suggest a kind of dance-chant) proves an ideal foil for the Sibelius: it is bright, rhythmically buoyant, basically optimistic in outlook, setting off the dark and introspective violence of the Sibelius – which gets a cracking performance here, both from the soloist and the orchestra, with a freshness and a directness that makes you forget that you’ve listened to it countless times before. That’s quite an achievement in such frequently contested repertoire – 119 recordings at the last count.'
'The Shahams, brother and sister, make a formidable team. It's obvious throughout that they're entirely comfortable playing together, effortlessly accommodating any freedoms in timing and matching each other's tone and dynamics... highly expressive performances. The particularly wide dynamic range – of the recording as well as of the playing – here works decisively to the music's advantage. And, especially in the Cinq Mélodies, we hear some wonderfully subtle shades of expression: both players have clearly entered right into Prokofiev's distinctive idiom. They show the divergent natures of the two sonatas exceptionally vividly – Op 80 sombre and concentrated, Op 94 full of ebullient fantasy.'
'If this movement demands a high level of virtuosity at the tempo Shaham has chosen, he and the Sejong Soloists display it in ample measure … Urgently recommended for all three performances and for the spacious recorded sound.'
'Gil Shaham and the Sejong Soloists - a handpicked ensemble of young musicians - present a driving performance, bustling and forward-moving in the opening Allegro...building cumulatively to a chattering contrapuntal finale that demonstrates these players' admirable abilities individually and in ensemble.'
'The Sejong Soloists muster a propulsive verve in the first movement...Both Scherzo and Finale work best, the former because the half-lit filigree is beautifully realised, the latter thanks to the guiding hand of some exhilarating counterpoint.'
'Shaham and his colleagues evidently impress by their sheer brilliance and phenomenal dexterity…'
'This great fiddler takes us on a mesmerising journey spanning the Classical to the Early Romantic periods. Exceptional support from New York-based Sejong Soloists completes this five-star album. PRESENTERS CHOICE'
'Shaham says playing the Mendelssohn Octet with the Sejong Soloists is "like playing basketball with seven Michael Jordans. It was a privilege for me, sitting there with my graying hair, to try to keep up with their artistry." He keeps up with them quite well, in addition to the Concertos 1 & 4 for violin by Haydn.'
'The Mendelssohn is the biggest delight, because its manic personality matches Shaham’s. It is graceful of Shaham to play such a collaborative piece. You cannot always sense his voice, but you sense his leadership.'
'Sejong is renowned for its cohesiveness and refreshing musical style, and together with Shaham the ensemble brings to this repertoire a sense of intimacy, compelling intensity and engagement.'
'Shaham’s passion for Sarasate is unmistakable on this CD, especially on Zigeunerweisen and Carmen Fantasy … he imbues his violin with the personality of a quirky, playful, seductive woman of whom you simply can’t get enough. Adele Anthony is heard on four of the 16 tracks, the last of which, Navarra for 2 Violins, is evidence that she and Shaham (her husband), make beautiful music together …'
'His virtuosity is breathtaking, and he has the fiery temperament that gives Sarasate’s music an authentic Spanish zing.'
'Both violinists [Shaham and Adele Anthony] have a real feeling for the music – its sometimes outrageous showmanship, which Shaham is particularly good at portraying, combined with easy, graceful, aristocratic manners… Navarra makes a spectacular climax'
'Shaham's playing is impeccable – every attack is perfectly clean, the articulation crystal clear ... Sarasate wrote these piece to show off his own talent; Shaham certainly possesses a technique that's worth flaunting too ...'
'This is scintillating Sarasate, showcased with elegance and panache by the husband and wife team who celebrate the thrills and enjoyment of this Spanish master. PRESENTERS CHOICE'
'With his pure tone, immaculately clear delivery and refusal to over-indulge, Shaham proves to be an almost ideal interpreter of this repertory. There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the live recordings as he surmounts all the technical hurdles of the Carmen Fantasy and Zigeunerweisen with outrageous ease.'
'Both [Shaham and Anthony] capture the elegance of Sarasate, who was the intellectual among the violin stars of the nineteenth century. Shaham is especially clean in the numerous top-of-the-range passages, where Sarasate's music takes on an uncanny quality... of note are the efforts of producer and engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, who renders Shaham's acrobatics with absolute clarity in the live performances and welds the live and studio recordings together in the mastering. The live aspect of the album is all to the good; the excitement of the audiences is genuine, and the mood carries through to the rest of the tracks'
'Shaham’s playing on this album is so supremely gorgeous, better than on any other I’ve heard… The balances are exquisite, revealing details I never knew were there. This album also has the richest, most vibrant, balanced sound you’re likely to get … The flow and form [3rd movement] are complete, and the long cadenza at the end is worth the entire recording… as Shaham turns in the most exquisite, rapturous, technically perfect, and (may I say) exotically beautiful cadenza (with the widest-ranged, most awesome portamento) I’ve ever heard in this music.'
'Gil Shaham and David Zinman respond on an exceptional level to the intensity and urgency of Elgar's big concerto, relishing their informed give-and-take and emphasizing momentum and substance while absolutely avoiding anything that might smack of indulgence... it is exceptionally persuasive, and the recorded sound itself conveys both its warmth and its vigor superbly.'
'Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio is a masterpiece of the genre. The finest modern recording has been on BIS with Freddy Kempf… That's challenged now by… commanding contribution in his new recording; he's equally bold and strong in the bolder moments of the opening Pezzo elegiaco and his unforced virtuosity is as memorable... Gil Shaham and Truls Mørk are just as warm and sensitive, spacious and charismatic, especially in the quicksilver finale which moves from resoluto and con fuoco to a very touching closing Andante lugubre'
'… So this fine account, recorded live in Chicago last year, is most welcome, as well as once again refuting the fond old insular notion that to understand Elgar you have to be English. Gil Shaham plays with a wonderfully pure, true, expressive tone, and phrases like a master...'
'So many CDs, so little time…. but every once in a while a disc arrives for review that grabs me so thoroughly that I find myself listening to it over and over. I’ve got one now in Canary Classics’ new release of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor. This is an irresistible recording, performed by three outstanding soloists who collaborate here like a dream: pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Gil Shaham, and cellist Truls Mork. It’s a wonderful piece of chamber music. The performers seem to be having a terrific time, and it’s infectious. Don’t miss this one.'
'Shaham remains himself throughout, displaying his characteristic rich tone production and technical alertness, but he displays insight into the devices that help create the work’s [Butterfly Lovers] special identity if not with a memory of hearing it performed. Its cinematic lushness and its idiomatic violin part should help it gain a foothold, now after almost 50 years…. The recorded sound, with sufficient breadth and depth to capture the orchestra’s full dynamic range, nevertheless focusing directly on the soloist, shows all the detail that Shaham has worked into his performances… Strongly recommended for a welcome performance of The Butterfly Lovers and urgently recommended for an urgent reading of Tchaikovsky.'
'Gil Shaham plays both works in fine style. The SSO play with verve and finesse, and the recorded sound is particularly full and well blended.'
'Together they project the implicit emotional breadth of these brashly joyous, buioyantly lyrical, gently graceful and (in K304) eerily other-wordly scores…Fine, closely miked engineering completes the panoply of virtues that distinguishes this most welcome release.'
'Gil and Orli Shaham make a formidable duo...There is a depth of mutual understanding that achieves impeccable ensemble … Gil Shaham has added and array of subtle changes of colour to enhance the slow movements, intonation throughout is spotlessly clean.'
'They have entered Prokofiev's distinctive idiom … the sonatas emerge in brilliant, highly expressive performances...'
'Gil and Orli Shaham give warm and ardent performances of these pieces, bringing the music vividly to life.'
'There is a great music on this disc, the two violin and piano sonatas ranking with Prokofiev's finest chamber music, the first especially. And there are brief, tuneful and mischievous ones. The Shahams play both equally well, and the recording is stunning'
'leaps straight to the top of the pile … a disc to savour'