Violin Concertos of the 1930s

By Laurie Niles

March 15, 2016

Gil Shaham’s ongoing 1930s Violin Concertos project is a lot more than a series of performances of likable pieces — as the artist himself might lead one to believe. It’s nothing less than a revelatory journey through an astonishing time in music history.

Shaham has recorded (and in some cases re-recorded) seven 1930s violin concertos with two albums released over the last few years:1930s Violin Concertos, Vol. 1, with concertos by Samuel Barber (1939), Alban Berg (1935), Karl Hartmann (1939), Igor Stravinsky (1931) and Benjamin Britten (1939); and more recently, 1930s Violin Concertos, Vol. 2, with the second violin concertos of both Sergei Prokofiev (1935) and Bela Bartók (1938), which was released late last month. (There are more 1930s concertos: Arnold Schoenberg, Karol Szymanowski, Bohuslav Martinú, Darius Milhaud, Ernst Bloch, Paul Hindemith and William Walton, to name a few. He hasn’t ruled out a Vol. 3.)

Perhaps due to the politics, displacement and despair of Depression-era, post-war, pre-war times, the 1930s also were a battleground for the soul of Western music. The works that Gil Shaham presents stand at the heart of that battle, in which composers sought both to cling to their disintegrating roots and to blow apart the traditions of the past, experimenting with the recently-invented 12-tone method, with atonality, and the rejection of Romanticism. These were messy times — a lot like our own — and the music is a reflection of that.

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