Although born in America, Gil Shaham moved with his family to Jerusalem when he was very young. Here he began violin lessons at the age of seven with Samuel Bernstein at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and in 1980, aged nine, he played for Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein and Henryk Szeryng. He also attended the Aspen Music School in Colorado, studying with Dorothy DeLay and Jens Ellerman. Shaham soon became a promising young soloist and, as can be judged by his already extensive discography (mainly of established solo and chamber repertoire from the eighteenth century to the present day), he has become a significant recording artist.
He performs regularly throughout Europe, Japan and the USA and has also appeared at the Ravinia, Aspen, Tanglewood, Schleswig-Holstein and Lucerne festivals, among others.
Shaham recorded exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon from 1987 until 2002, after which he founded his own label, Canary Classics. Several of his discs have received awards, including a Grammy® nomination for his Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos, and a 1996 Prix de la Nouvelle Académie du Disque for the two Prokofiev concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra under André Previn.
Shaham’s recordings reveal a lively but otherwise conventional artistry, albeit to very high technical standards in terms of both left-hand agility and tone production. The 2004 Prokofiev Sonata (with his sister, Orli) and Tchaikovsky Concerto recordings here are perhaps the most distinguished in this small representative selection, revealing a powerful tone, a good deal of brightness and well-connected phrasing. The Elgar Concerto (live, 2007) is free from unnecessary mannerisms and the slow movement is mercifully brisk (avoiding the recent tendency towards performing Elgar with maudlin steadiness!). Shaham’s warmth and charm here show an affinity with a work that, for all its fame in the UK, is still relatively little played elsewhere. Haydn’s Concerto, Hob.VIIa No. 1 (2010) is clean and distinguished, although the slow movement is a little soporific, showing the modern concept of elevating tonal beauty above pursuit of shape and rhetoric. Fauré’s Op. 13 Sonata (2003) strays rather too much into virtuoso territory (a little more charm would be welcome) but is nonetheless a well-balanced and faithful reading of this relatively early work.
In an age of superlative performers with a relatively unified approach to style, Shaham’s playing is not perhaps the most distinctive but, on the evidence of these performances, few can doubt his credentials as a violinist of international repute.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)