Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1; Maneein: Dependent Arising: Concerto For Violin And Orchestra. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tito Muñoz, conductor. Cedille (CDR 90000 223). Time: 67:39.
DIGITAL REVIEW — How can one possibly associate Dmitri Shostakovich with heavy metal rock? Well, you can do it with mirrors, but you can also take a polemic stance that these two seemingly alien creatures are compatible, perhaps even musical cousins that convey a certain rage against the machine (pun intended, with apologies to a certain rock band).
It’s not unheard of. Just Google the words “Shostakovich” and “heavy metal” and behold the Dover Quartet trying their darndest to make the point in an über-abrasive rendition of the second movement of the Eighth Quartet — available on YouTube under the title “Heavy Metal On Strings.” And you can find real heavy-metal rock bands making noisy yet surprisingly credible performances of that movement and similarly evil scherzos from the Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies. It’s as if there wasn’t much difference between rage at the pace of life in capitalist America and rage against the Soviet system.
Enter Rachel Barton Pine, virtuoso violinist and self-admitted passionate metalhead, who tries to have it both ways, though without plugging in. She commissioned a violin concerto from fellow violinist-metal fan Earl Maneein called Dependent Arising that apparently aims to translate heavy-metal mannerisms into symphonic terms (the rock videos mentioned above do exactly the opposite). Then she coupled it with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which was famously shelved for seven years as long as Stalin was alive and dangerous, finally coming to light during the Khrushchev “thaw” in the mid-1950s.
In the Shostakovich, Pine is full of steady, exquisitely controlled melancholy in the opening movement, though without the near-infinite shades of color that the concerto’s dedicatee, David Oistrakh, conjured in several recordings. She digs in with only relatively moderate ferocity to the scherzo until she gets to the DSCH motto toward the end, where she turns it up a notch. She sings the song of the slow movement quietly, saving up high tension for the later portion of the cadenza and the rigors of the steeplechase finale.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare the very gifted Pine with the mighty Oistrakh, who really conveyed the heat at all times, even when sullen. But Maneein’s copiously explanatory booklet note sets it up, pointing to Oistrakh as the “standard” in this work “for obvious reasons.” Tito Muñoz — who at one time was on the short list for the music director job at the Pasadena Symphony and is now with the Phoenix Symphony — does a capable job with the pointed rhythms of the Scherzo with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
On to the Maneein concerto, in which Pine comes out firing as dissonances in the orchestra pile up at the start of the opening movement. Things then turn somewhat lyrical, but not for long, as the violence returns. There is a high-strung cadenza in which Pine crunches down on the strings, sawing wildly, followed by a rat-a-tat-tat coda with mayhem from everyone.
The second movement is a “meditation on grief,” the composer says, gentle at first, but the bad omens return in the center of the movement in the orchestra before things die down. As in Shostakovich’s piece, there is a connecting cadenza that leads right into the finale; Pine tears at the fabric of her instrument in the former, and she zestfully handles all of the extreme demands on the soloist that Maneein throws at her in the latter. Finally, rapid quasi-metallic tremolos power the concerto toward its close.
For all of its anger and fury, though, Dependent Arising ultimately plants itself firmly in the classical camp. To cite one example of a real union of mosh pit and symphony hall, Jens Ibsen’s Drowned In Light –— first heard during the California Festival in San Francisco in November 2023 — makes more idiomatic use of heavy metal’s sound world with the help of a drum kit and a fuzz-tone pedal on the electric guitar. Now there would be another interesting tandem for an orchestra looking to kick out the jams for metalheads — Ibsen and Shostakovich.