Deutsche Grammophon's new signing Ilya Gringolts repays the label's faith with strikingly full-blooded, yet searching interpretations of two great concertos. The 19-year-old Russian violinist allows room to develop the broad, romantic melodies of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and shape its impassioned drama.
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Music Week (London) / 27. July 2002
Gringolts brings his own personal qualities to the music . . . Gringolts combines virtuosic energy with security of tone in the Tchaikovsky . . . But it is with the Shostakovich in which he really shines. His is a gripping performance from beginning to end, bringing poignancy and emotional commitment to the two slow movements, a nocturne and passacaglia, and biting intensity to the scherzo and 'Burlesque' finale. Fantasy, control and imagination add up to an auspicious debut indeed.
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BBC Music Magazine (London) / 01. September 2002
It is hard to believe how far prize-winning 20-year-old Ilya Gringolts has come . . . His musical gifts are now formidable, his sound warm . . . In the Tchaikovsky Concerto, quite aside from some sublime dialogue with the superb Israeli woodwinds, he charts the first movement in such a way that the lyrical second subject takes on a hushed, other-worldly quality that's quite unlike any other recording. It becomes the musical pivot of the movement.
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Gramophone (London) / 01. October 2002
Ilya Gringolts unlocks the secret of Tchaikovsky work . . . His playing ranges from the flirtatious and beguiling to an ardent declaration of feeling. He is warmly seconded in all this by Perlman's detailed conducting.
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Los Angeles Times / 01. December 2002
His tonal beauty in the slow movement potentiates his strong sense of the melody's direction . . . an unmatchable sense of quasi-mystical rapture . . . this one must be required listening for everyone who takes an interest of any kind in Shotakovich's First Concerto.
Record Review /
Fanfare (Tenafly, NJ) / 01. May 2003
Gringolts steht fraglos vor einer Weltkarriere mit seinem federnd-schlanken, melancholisch-herben Ton... Vor allem aber im Schostakowitsch-Kopfsatz zeigt Gringolts tiefen Sinn für Klangfarbenvielfalt und die elegische Bitternis dieser großen Musik.
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Süddeutsche Zeitung / 07. August 2002
Sein Tschaikowsky schwitzt nicht, perlt elegant und geläufig, sein Schostakowitsch hat zupackende Attacke und temperamentvollen Biss.
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Die Welt (Berlin) / 08. August 2002
Ein viel versprechendes Talent am Violin-Himmel ist der russische Geiger Ilya Gringolts... Gringolts' technische Möglichkeiten faszinieren. Sein Ton wirkt sinnlich, schlank, jedoch niemals penetrant. Tschaikowsky tönt so überaus frisch und optimistisch gestimmt. Auch Schostakowitsch widmet Ilya Gringolts im a-Moll-Konzert Zielstrebigkeit und stark ausgeprägtes Formbewusstsein. Von diesem jungen Mann wird man noch viel hören.
Record Review /
Stereo (Euskirchen) / 01. October 2002
Gringolts entpuppt sich als empfindsamer Teufelsgeiger . . .
Record Review /
Classix / 01. October 2002
"...very special and very different" - the young violinist Ilya Gringolts
Sitting in a New York café near Lincoln Center on a drizzly spring day, Ilya Gringolts reflects on how he went from being a violin student in St. Petersburg to making his first recording with the Israel Philharmonic and Itzhak Perlman. The story begins with a video of Gringolts playing the violin that his parents sent to some distant cousins in Ottawa. They showed it to a close friend and violinist in Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra, and he was so impressed by the young Gringolts's playing that he gave the tape to his orchestra's conductor, Pinchas Zukerman, who in turn, after watching it, sent it to an assistant of Itzhak Perlman. Gringolts was promptly invited to attend Perlman's Music Camp in the summer, on full scholarship. It was the first time he had ever been to the United States. During that summer of 1998, Gringolts was also preparing for the Paganini Competition in Italy, and at the camp he was able to practice nearly all the competition repertoire, frequently with Perlman's coaching. In the autumn, still only 16, Gringolts surprised everyone, even himself, by winning the competition's top prize. "It was only the second time I'd ever played the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no. 1 with orchestra", he says. Soon afterward, Perlman invited him to be his student at the Juilliard School. He arrived in New York at the age of 17 and now plans to stay there, at least for the next few years.
Since Gringolts's Paganini Competition triumph, the pace of his career has accelerated dramatically, but its beginning was less than auspicious. His father, an amateur violinist, had hoped that Ilya would want to take up the instrument, and in 1987, at the age of five, he had his first lessons. After a year, however, his instructor decided that the boy had no particular talent for the instrument and that he no longer cared to teach him. Ilya's father was not deterred and soon found him another teacher, Tatiana Liberova. After a year with her, Gringolts entered the special music school for children attached to the St. Petersburg Conservatory and continued studying with Liberova for another ten years before leaving for Juilliard. His current teacher, Itzhak Perlman, said recently: "Ilya doesn't play like anybody else, he plays like himself... somebody very, very special and very different."
When he was first approached by Deutsche Grammophon, Gringolts was hoping to record the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos, but he soon came around to the Shostakovich, not only because it was the piece with which he had won the Paganini Competition but also because "there is a certain similarity between these concertos, the Tchaikovsky and the Shostakovich: their ultimate sincerity - both are open and heartfelt. But Shostakovich's is filled with emotional pain, while in Tchaikovsky's there is joy. In Shostakovich the hero is probably shouting - screaming - while in Tchaikovsky the hero is singing out", Gringolts effused. He feels a strong pull towards 20th-century music in general: "It's much easier to perform music that's close to our time; the further into the past you go, the more difficult it becomes, because you are far removed from the traditions and performance practices of the period. You have to make a lot of decisions without a first-hand frame of reference."
He does get some help in decision-making - from his mentor, Itzhak Perlman, who conducts the Israel Philharmonic on this recording. "I ask him any questions that I have about the musical aspects of a piece, or about the concert experience, because no one on earth has the concert experience of Mr. Perlman. There is no question that stays unanswered for me. Mr. Perlman's played it all, a trillion times, so, like no one else, he knows how it feels on stage."
Gringolts now has plenty of opportunity to find out for himself how that feels. Since his first public performance in Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the age of eleven, he has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony and other orchestras. More debuts around the world are planned for future seasons, as well as more recordings. "This CD of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich captures a moment in time", he says. Then, as we finish our coffee, the young artist muses: "Even today, a few months after the recording sessions, I might play the Tchaikovsky Concerto somewhat differently - maybe not any better, but a little differently. I don't like to play a piece exactly the same way twice."
Repertoire Background - the violin concertos of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich
In July 1877, in a desperate bid to overcome his homosexuality, the 37-year-old Tchaikovsky married. The result was disaster, and in October he fled Russia for Italy, spiritually and creatively stunned. In March 1878 he moved to Switzerland and doggedly began work on a piano sonata. Then suddenly everything changed. Two years earlier he had fallen in love with a young violin student, Joseph Kotek, and his passion had held throughout the disastrous events of 1877. Now, in Clarens on Lake Geneva, his idol joined him. Tchaikovsky's mood was transformed, and setting aside the piano sonata, on 17 March he began his Violin Concerto. With Kotek firing inspiration and advising on the solo part, the whole work was sketched within a fortnight. Immediate doubts about the slow movement prompted Tchaikovsky in a single day to compose the one we know (the discarded movement ultimately becoming Méditation, the first of the three violin and piano pieces, Souvenir d'un lieu cher). By 11 April the orchestration was complete.
The concerto's quality proved as high as its composition had been swift. The first movement seems modelled on that of Mendelssohn's concerto, with its centrally placed cadenza, but there is a very special freshness to Tchaikovsky's music that may, perhaps unwittingly, have been prompted by his image of the 23-year-old who had inspired it. Yet Kotek did not, in fact, return Tchaikovsky's feelings, and rejection had set a certain distance between them - a situation that might tempt the listener to wonder whether the gentle yearning within the second main theme is perhaps a muted reflection of the composer's unrequited love. Whatever the case, this is one of Tchaikovsky's most "affectionate" movements.
But it was surely thoughts of the land from which he had exiled himself for the past half year that conditioned the remaining two movements. If a spirit of Slav nostalgia infuses the following Andante, it is a Russian-peasant exuberance that seems reflected in the high-spirited rondo finale that leaps seamlessly out of the lovely Canzonetta. Its first theme athletic, its second more earthy, with a strong suggestion of peasant bagpipes in its accompanying double pedal, this Allegro vivacissimo makes the ideal conclusion for one of the most perfectly formed and consistent of Tchaikovsky's larger-scale works.
In style, mood and scale Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto is far removed from Tchaikovsky's, demanding of the soloist a radical shift of expressive and technical viewpoint, a concern less with full-throated lyricism and self-conscious display than with probing and reflecting issues of human existence: its broodings and sorrows, its pains, tragedies, defiance - and its indomitable spirit. The concerto's creation was bisected by the publication on 10 February 1948 of the "Zhdanov decree", designed to bring to heel composers who had capitalized creatively during the war from the Communist Party's looser control of their works' "political ideology", with Shostakovich being named as one of the prime offenders. He had begun the concerto in July 1947, and was still engaged upon the finale when Zhdanov struck. Though it was completed some six weeks later, it was withheld from public performance until October 1955, over two years after Stalin's death.
No concerto opening is more muted yet haunting than this Nocturne. It is essentially a wide-spun, wide-ranging, seemingly endless violin cantilena that constantly turns back upon itself yet constantly unfolds, with the orchestra as the most discreet and flexible of partners. Shifts of mood are made gently: only once, when violin double-stopping is heard, does a harsher element seem seriously to threaten the shaded melancholy that marks so much of this deeply felt movement. The ensuing Scherzo provides an almost brutal wrench. The scoring is now as rhythmically pointed as it is often texturally sparse, with prime emphasis upon wind tone, both solo and corporate, the soloist now a sparkling, if often sardonic partner in this furiously energetic movement. And it provides a powerful foil for the emotional heart of the work, the Passacaglia.
While the slow-quick-slow-quick movement structure of the whole concerto might seem to hint at an 18th-century concerto grosso design, this third movement is modelled explicitly on Baroque precedent. Shostakovich had already shown an intermittent interest in the passacaglia, but never before with such a drastic shift towards a neo-Baroque style as here. The striding, functional and tonally secure bass initially partnered by a solemn horn fanfare, the harmonic language that effortlessly accommodates itself to an almost Bachian discipline yet still remains fully consonant with that used elsewhere in the concerto, and the canon in which an orchestral strand shadows the soloist's line during two of the ground's nine rotations - all speak of Shostakovich's reverence for that giant of the Baroque whose music he revered above all others. There is a monolithic, stern simplicity to this utterance that addresses the listener perhaps more directly even than the opening Nocturne. From the hushed world into which the movement finally withdraws (the soloist now ghosting the opening fanfare) there emerges a spacious violin cadenza that provides the necessary measured transition to the extrovert, brash beginning of the Burlesque, a seemingly knockabout finale into which echoes from the Scherzo are drawn. Its super-energetic and noisy conclusion would appear to satisfy the mindless ideologues' requirement of "a positive and optimistic" outcome.
Yet a question seems begged by the movement's end. Why the return of the Passacaglia's bass, now so grotesquely caricatured? Could the reason lie in what had intervened politically - the promulgation of the Zhdanov decree - while Shostakovich had been engaged on this finale? Did Shostakovich, a master of irony, now wilfully traduce what had provided the very foundation for the concerto's deepest thoughts in order to provide a conclusion as sour as he could make it? Yet this is not the end - for the last thematic statement is of the Passacaglia's first three notes, now firmly restored to their original condition. Was this Shostakovich's even more defiant final response?