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American Violin Concertos
Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Violin Concerto in A minor (1952) [30:27]
Theodore WIPRUD (b.1958)
Violin Concerto, 'Katrina' (2010-11) [24:33]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Violin Concerto, op.14 (1939-40) [23:58]
Ittai Shapira (violin)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Neil Thomson (Wiprud)
rec. Studio 5, DSS, Moscow, 21-25 July 2001; The Friary, Liverpool, 5 January 2012 (Wiprud).
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD 043 [79:00] 

As fine a musician as Israeli-American violinist Ittai Shapira undoubtedly is, it is highly unlikely that music-lovers will be drawn to this disc for Samuel Barber's classic work. There are, after all, so many other marvellous versions by well-known soloists already available - Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn and James Ehnes, to name but three contemporaries. Indeed, as this very recording appeared on the ASV label a decade ago (PLT 8501), some may already have it in their collection. Moreover, though technically deleted, the disc is still easily obtainable over the internet. On the other hand, considered as a bonus, no one is going to be disappointed: this is a strong, solid performance by Shapira, electric indeed in the finale, backed up by a convincing Russian Philharmonic under Thomas Sanderling, in fairly decent sound.
 
Gian Carlo Menotti's Concerto, by contrast, is something of a rarity, whilst Wiprud's is a first recording. Jennifer Koh on Chandos (CHAN 9979) and Ruggiero Ricci on Reference Recordings (RR-45CD), - or indeed the splendidly-named Tossy Spivakovsky, recently reissued on Naxos Historical (8.111376-7), for those not averse to mono sound - are among the leading competition in the Menotti. Shapira, however, svelte and soaring, comes out on top, again with the better orchestra in support. It should be noted that this too was originally issued on ASV (DCA1156). At any rate, Menotti's beautiful concerto is a cross between the Barber and the Sibelius, and just as sure-fire an audience-pleaser. Why does it not get programmed more?
 
To the premiere: American composer Theodore Wiprud's passionate violin concerto 'Katrina', written in memory of those devastated by the eponymous hurricane that blasted New Orleans in 2005. Loosely programmatic, 'Katrina' is a mildly 'modern'-sounding filling between two unashamedly 'old-fashioned' works, but generally no more dissonant than, say, Shostakovich. It is not unlike the violin concertos of David Diamond or Benjamin Lees, in fact. Like the latter's especially, Wiprud's work is structured and orchestrated with great colour and invention. Annotator Joanna Wyld is unfair to liken Wiprud here to "a kind of 21st-century Gershwin" - despite the obvious jazz and folk elements, his technique and imagination are far superior. Appropriately, Wiprud dedicated the work to Shapira, who gave the premiere in October 2011, and who repays the accolade with a dazzling performance, underpinned by an authoritative Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Neil Thomson. Shapira has already teamed up to good effect with Thomson and the RLPO to record his own recent violin concerto, 'The Old Man and The Sea' - see review. In fact, that work was recorded last year at The Friary in the same well-engineered session as Wiprud's.
 
Champs Hill's booklet notes are exemplary, augmented by a touching personal note from Wiprud and ample biographical detail on Shapira, Sanderling and Thomson; alas not the orchestras. With a very generous running time, this CD adds up - at least for those who do not already have the ASV discs - to a nigh-on irresistible way to experience the thaumaturgy of violin-with-orchestra.  

Byzantion
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