By Greg Cahill | From the July-August 2021 issue of Strings magazine
The opening strains of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, Allegro ma non troppo, greet the listener with the astounding beauty and elegance of the composer’s only violin concerto before bursting with the raw intensity that became Beethoven’s trademark orchestral sound. It seduces and captures the imagination—and you’d expect no less from master concert violinist Gil Shaham and the Knights, the critically acclaimed New York–based chamber orchestra. But the opening passages also challenge with a flurry of octaves, arpeggios, scales, and broken thirds. This is Shaham’s first recording of Beethoven and, in popular parlance, he wastes no time in owning it.
The same can be said of his rendering of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 77. It’s no coincidence that Shaham paired these two masterworks—each is connected by Hungarian-born violin phenom Joseph Joachim. At 12, Joachim performed the Beethoven violin concerto to great acclaim in London, and Brahms dedicated his work to Joachim, who composed the cadenza. “Beethoven requires a sparkling and secure technique, sensitivity to character and mood,” Styra Avins writes in the liner notes, “Brahms does, too, but on an even greater canvas.” These are virtuoso works that can confound violinists. In the hands of Shaham and the Knights, these sumptuous tracks—recorded in 2019 at LeFrak Hall at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York—are flawless.