The final flurry of recordings by Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic before formally parting company in summer 2002, includes this impressive tribute to Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim made at the Philharmonie Berlin in May 2000. The Violin Concerto in D and the Double Concerto in A minor were both composed for Joachim who is incarnate here in the steely, finely economical tone of fiddler Gil Shaham. His powerful first-movement certainties are tinged with timid introspection in the beautiful adagio, but burst into urgent exuberance in the finale. Naturally he plays Joachim's first-movement cadenza and does so with polished ease, clearly demonstrating the fruitfulness of the composer's and dedicatee's relationship.
Shaham is joined by cellist Jian Wang for the Double Concerto. Their intercourse veers between loving reciprocity and sparring antagonism, as did Joachim's with his wife who divorced him and with Brahms who censured him. Dramatic, volatile tension drives the first movement like a threatening family row. Abbado steers the wrestling like a manipulative referee, cajoling the orchestra into a ringside crowd. The thoughtful slow movement moves like an agile heavyweight while the thrilling four-round rondo finale begins with tentative jabs before a tutti onslaught of syncopated blows and grinding interspersed themes makes of it a canvas-pounding knockout that calls for an immediate replay.--Rick Jones