At Carnegie Hall, violinist Julian Rachlin stakes his claim in Shostakovich Concerto

By Raymond Beegle
Monday, February 8, 2016

Violinist Julian Rachlin

Violinist Julian Rachlin

Orchestra Nationale de France. Daniele Gatti, Conductor. Julian Rachlin, Violin. DEBUSSY: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. SHOSTAKOVICH: Vilolin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in F Minor, Op. 62.  Thursday, January 28, 2016. Carnegie Hall

Perhaps the brightest light in New York’s serious musical life is the visiting orchestra series at Carnegie Hall. The greatest orchestras in the world on their best behavior, playing in one of the most acoustically perfect theaters for one of the world’s most discerning audiences prove to be leaven in the loaf and an inspiration to at least this listener. 

In this tradition, the Orchestra Nationale de France began a beautifully shaped program with Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Fawn” displaying the lush, shimmering sound of the orchestra’s string section. The work proved to be a perfect contrast to the stark, apocalyptic Shostakovich concerto that followed, perhaps the composer’s most searing indictment against Stalin’s murderous regime. This evening’s performance by Julian Rachlin, its vision, its fury and its technical transcendence, surpasses any other reading of the work I’ve heard by any of the violinists of the Soviet era or the time following, including the two formidable recordings of David Oistrakh. Maestro Gatti provided a sympathetic, dramatically compelling accompaniment brilliantly executed by his obviously inspired ensemble. 

Even after intermission, the spirit of Shostakovich filled the hall and it did not dissipate with the opening phrases of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. One could see the logic in the placement of the symphony at the end of the concert, a work of triumph resolving a work of desolation, but the unusually quick tempos and lyric approach to the piece diminished it’s granite, magnitude, and consequently its intended effect. The serene slow movement, in spite of the superb horn solo, did not cast its spell, nor did the last movement give the sense of its innate grandeur at such a pace. It seemed a pale sister to the recorded live performances of Furtwängler and Mravinsky, but an attractive one nevertheless.

Raymond Beegle reviews classical music and opera for the New York Observer and Fanfare Magazine. For many years he was Contributing Editor of Opera Quarterly, the Classic Record Collector (UK), and also appeared on The Today Show (NBC) and Good Morning America (CBS). As an accompanist, he has collaborated with Zinka Milanov and Licia Albanese.  Currently Mr. Beegle serves on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music in New York City.