Violinist Strikes Sparks with Belated Shostakovich Premiere at Grant Park

July 18, 2009

Gomyo brought a laser-like concentration  to her playing that made up for the lack of volume, sailing through the technical challenges, with the composer's DSCH motif given emphatic bite in the Scherzo.

For all of the Grant Park Music Festival’s enterprising programming, it’s surprising to learn of significant works that have been overlooked. Friday night’s program led by Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits offered three festival premieres—one of which, surprisingly, was Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Shostakovich wrote the work for David Oistrakh in 1948, yet was wary of provoking further censure for “formalist” tendencies with such personal, non-heroic music. The composer put the concerto in his drawer—along with the Fourth and Fifth Quartets and the Songs on Jewish Folk Poetry—where it stayed for seven years. Oistrakh finally gave the work its premiere in 1955 after Stalin’s death.

The finest violin concerto of the 20th century, this is an intensely personal work, with many virtuosic challenges for the soloist yet nothing showy or for mere display. Instead, there is a sense of darkly ruminative searching throughout; the heart of the concerto is the extended Passacaglia where the soloist engages in a soliloquy-like interior conversation, slowly moving from bleak rumination to strenuous striving before sinking back into the gloom. In the ensuing cadenza, the sense of an individual struggling against malign exterior forces is unmistakable, with the hard, inexorable conflict exploding into a bravura lightning finale, which for all its thrilling speed and brilliance, conveys a sense of desperation as much as exhilaration, the desolation never quite dispelled.

Karen Gomyo’s timbre is rather slender for this demanding music, yet the Canadian violinist yielded nothing in force or intensity in her performance Friday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Gomyo brought a laser-like concentration to her playing that made up for the lack of volume, sailing through the technical challenges, with the composer’s DSCH motif given emphatic bite in the Scherzo. Read the full article at www.chicagoclassicalreview.com.

Lawrence Johnson, Chicago Classical Review