Violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Alisa Weilerstein take on Shostokovich's string concertos

The string concertos of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 to 1975) used to be the sacred preserve of venerable Russian soloists with a direct line to the composer, men such as David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich, who are sadly no longer alive.

A new generation of young and glamorous artists has filled the void, including women such as Viktoria Mullova, Midori, Sarah Chang and Hanna Chang.

Now, add British violinist Nicola Benedetti and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein to the list.

Benedetti gives a deeply felt reading of the First Violin Concerto (1947), without smoothing over the opening Nocturne's dark matter, and letting rip in the manic second and fourth movements. The finale's Burlesque, with its wild Klezmer raves, also scores with a direct and relentless attack.

Her trademark sweetness of tone is reserved mostly for its coupling, Glazunov's Violin Concerto (1904), which comes from an earlier and more effable era of Russian music.

Weilerstein's performances of both cello concertos are high on dry wit and ironic humour. The more familiar First Cello Concerto (1959) also benefits from the excellent orchestral French horn soloist's outlandish interjections and whoops. The longer, darker and grimmer Second Cello Concerto (1966) deserves to be better known and she pulls out all the stops for an ultra-coherent performance.

  • 20TH-CENTURY CLASSICS
    SHOSTAKOVICH VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1

    Nicola Benedetti, violin
    Bournemouth Symphony/Kirill Karabits
    Decca 478 8758 
    5 Stars

  • SHOSTAKOVICH CELLO CONCERTOS 

    Alisa Weilerstein, cello 
    ​Bavarian Radio Symphony/Pablo Heras-Casado
    Decca 483 0835
    5 Stars

Insanity, levity and vulgarity have seldom found a more united front in these superb recordings.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe