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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 [44:04]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 [32:39]
Sayaka Shoji (violin)
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
rec. 2017, D.D. Shostakovich St. Petersburg Academic Philharmonia Grand Hall

The pairing of the Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos in Ida Haendel's superb 1957 live recording on Supraphon holds an affectionate place in my collection; the two works seem to complement each other rather well. Now, the young Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji takes up the mantle, joined by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov, in a partnership made in heaven, judging from the success of their collaboration in the two Prokofiev Concertos back in 2014, also recorded by DG (review).

Shoji brings un-showy musicianship, a sense of structure and architecture, pleasing tone and flawless intonation to the performance of the Beethoven Concerto. It's evident that she has the composer's music in her blood. She's already recorded the complete sonatas for violin and piano with the Italian pianist Gianluca Cascioli, a wonderfully compelling cycle that I had the pleasure of reviewing three or four years ago (review ~ review). With the concerto I sense that she knows her way around the work, and has lived with it for some time. The opening movement is noble, expressive and deeply personal and Shoji plays from the heart, focussing on the music's reflective qualities. She displays a patrician eloquence, surprising in one so young. We have her own cadenzas which are pleasingly idiomatic and don't ramble. Her ravishing tone is ideal for the slow movement, and I love the way she lovingly caresses the phrases. The finale, agile and resolute, is rhythmically incisive and oozes an infectious joie de vivre. Temirkanov is sympathetic and supportive, and both soloist and conductor demonstrate a shared vision, a quality I also found in their Prokofiev Concertos recording.

In the Sibelius, Shoji takes the formidable technical difficulties in her stride. Her view of the opening movement is less impassioned than say Heifetz, whose recording for me is the  ne plus ultra against which all other recordings of the work are compared. Having listened to this newcomer now several times, I'd say she takes a more contained view, savouring the music’s lyrical qualities. It's an alternative approach that I find most refreshing. There are some transcendently uplifting moments in the slow movement, where fervent intensity and ardent passion melt into inconsolable melancholy. The finale is a thrilling tour de force, brilliantly executed and rhythmically vital.

The DG engineers have worked miracles, as the recorded sound couldn't be bettered. The orchestra effuses warmth and has depth and detail, with the soloist perfectly profiled in the sound picture. The booklet notes are in Japanese only, but there is an English tracklisting with timings. This is the sort of release you can just sit back and enjoy.

Stephen Greenbank

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