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Concert Review | Skride succeeds with Shostakovich

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 02:02


In a display of virtuosity and musicality, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride teamed up with conductor Andris Nelsons for an electrifying performance of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. The concert hall was a full house — unusual for a Thursday night — and with good reason. The violin concerto was boldly and enthusiastically executed, with a hunched Nelsons jumping and dancing on the podium as a unified soloist and orchestra followed his cues.

After making a debut with the Berlin Philharmonic with Nelsons, Skride continued her collaboration with Nelsons for the Concerto. The chemistry between Skride and Nelsons was undeniable. The orchestra and soloist functioned as a cohesive unit, with neither one overpowering the other.

Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto presented little challenge to Skride’s technique, though it may have been a greater challenge for her bow, which lost quite a few hairs through the second and fourth movement. Skride nonchalantly tossed the wounded soldiers aside and proceeded with the following movements. It was refreshing and delightful to watch Skride and Nelsons exchange smiles throughout the piece.

The first movement was a controlled yet diabolical nocturne that, although tranquil, resulted in an ominous sense of looming conflict. Skride’s meandering legato melody did not center around a particular motif, which gave the sense of a wandering protagonist.

The rather level first movement instantly gave way to a virtuoso scherzo. The interplay between orchestra and soloist in this energetic movement felt spontaneous and well balanced. It was here that Skride lost most of her bow hairs.

The heavy and thick third movement had a texture reminiscent of Brahms. The introduction, with its focus on the brass, certainly evoked memories of the first movement of Brahm’s Symphony No. 1. The third movement granted some much-needed relief after the fireball second movement. Though a slow movement, the third movement was perhaps the most dramatic of the entire work. The form of the passacaglia, a 17th century Spanish dance, was well suited to this purpose. Indeed, it was almost as if the first movement were an introduction to the symphony, while the second movement was the actual first movement.

The counterpoint between French horn and violin was especially clear throughout this movement, as was the ongoing collaboration between conductor and soloist. Skride’s double stops were powerful and effective as she carved her way through the thick orchestral accompaniment.

The cadenza of the third movement let Skride end with a bang. This cadenza seamlessly connected the verve of the third movement with the fourth movement. Though perhaps less physically demanding than the second movement, the cadenza of the third movement was indeed the most developing. Skride was able to bring the passacaglia to Shostakovich’s grandiose finale. The finale of the piece was devilishly syncopated and brisk, making this piece especially difficult to perform. Once again, Skride and Nelsons handled this challenge effortlessly and the piece moved faultlessly. The most remarkable part of the fourth movement was the gradual build of tension. By the end of the piece, the audience was on the edge of their seats begging for a cadence to resolve the tension created by Skride and Nelson.

At the cue of that cadence, the entire hall was on its feet with applause. Skride appeased the begging for an encore with Bach’s Partita No. 2, which was elegantly and conservatively — at least compared to the Shostakovich — performed. Indeed, Skride pulled out all the fireworks that made for a thrilling performance of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. Her command over the violin was as impressive, as was her connection with Nelson.

Skride would be most welcome in Symphony Hall once more, though a few small errors lightly marred the performance. One of the few problems with Thursday night’s program was that the Shostakovich was first. By the time Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony was performed, the night had already peaked. Though Nelsons was equally enthusiastic with the Tchaikovsky, a slightly more conservative interpretation of especially the 2nd movement would have been preferred. Nonetheless, Skride and Nelsons treated Symphony Hall to a night of exquisitely performed music.

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