Giltburg Shines In Shostakovich

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

We have no shortage of excellent versions of the two Shostakovich piano concertos, including Igoshina’s on CPO and Marc-André Hamelin’s on Hyperion. Here is another. These are big, bold, in-your-face performances that find a wider range of expression in both works than you might have believed possible. Much of the credit for this belongs to Vasily Petrenko as well, who continues his series of top-notch Shostakovich recordings for Naxos.

In the First concerto, particularly the outer movements, Giltburg attacks the zany, theater music themes with unbridled ferocity, finding a bitter edge of desperation for all the music’s wackiness. The bright, up-front sonics and Rhys Owens’ piercing trumpet complement the approach, and there is also some remarkably precise ensemble playing from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic strings. It’s an exhausting cliff-hanger of a performance.

Giltburg and Petrenko’s vision of the theoretically light and easy Second Piano Concerto is even more striking. From the dry, perky winds at the start to the positively cataclysmic first-movement development section, this is clearly a performance that has tremendous character–one that finds plenty of menace beneath the music’s breezy, sometimes comical, sometimes sweetly romantic exterior. It makes you sit up and listen with fresh ears, truly.

The two concertos really are too short for a single disc, and finding appropriate couplings is always an issue. This is where things get really interesting. Giltburg has made transcriptions of some of Shostakovich’s music for string quartet–the Waltz third movement from the Second quartet, and the entire Eighth quartet. He evidently had permission from Shostakovich’s family, which means nothing, as family members are usually terrible guardians of their illustrious ancestral legacies.

The Waltz works well enough, but the Eighth quartet is an impossible piece to transcribe for the keyboard. This is string music, plain and simple. The sustained notes in the fourth movement simply cannot be reproduced on the piano, although with clever pedaling and a sensible tempo Giltburg almost pulls it off. The savage second movement sounds positively tame here: evidently it’s much easier to push a string quartet to its limits than it is a Fazioli.

Curiously, however, it’s impossible to call the performance as such a failure. It’s quite moving in its way, and if you know the original, either as a quartet or in its chamber symphony version, you can’t help but come away with a renewed appreciation of Shostakovich’s genius for matching the music to the (original) medium. But please, let’s not have any more of these experiments. One is more than enough. A great disc.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Hamelin (Hyperion); Igoshina (CPO)

    Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; String Quartet No. 2: Waltz; String Quartet No. 8 (trans. Giltburg)

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