Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

WALTER PISTON (1894-1976) Violin Concerto No. 1 (1939) [21.30]  Violin Concerto No. 2 (1960) [25.00]   Fantasia for violin and orchestra (1970) [14.31] James Buswell (violin) National SO of the Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar   rec 27-31 May 1998, Kiev  NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559003 [60.49]

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Walter Piston, quite unjustifiably, has a reputation for dryness and academicism. He shares this reputation with Peter Mennin and it casts a quite unjustified slur on his romantically-inclined music. In the two concertos on this disc Piston's standing as an accessible and enduringly sinewy romantic is well and truly affirmed.

The first concerto was written for Ruth Poselt who premiered the work in 1940. It has been recorded before (though not on CD) by Hugo Kolberg with the Berlin SO conducted by Otto Mazerath (Mace LP MXX9089).

The concerto is absolutely splendid - modelled on the Tchaikovsky but having more than a few reference points with the Walton and the Barber. Michael Tippett's ecstatic string hymns from Concert for Double String Orchestra also seem to have touched this music which rises to a fine ecstasy at 5.03 in the first movement. This work has the sheer punch of the same composer's second symphony (try the Tilson Thomas/Boston recording for best effect) and the hurtling finale effervesces, darts and skims in circus stamping bravado.

The 15 minute Fantasia is a late work - drier, dissonant and challenging though not without a certain hard-won rhapsodic Bergian lyricism.

Less challenging is the 1960 second violin concerto (written as a Ford foundation commission for Joseph Fuchs) - rather like a time-filtered version of the Barber violin concerto. Melody is still important but it is tough although well worth the struggle. The second movement is a lean adagio - a reflective, sustained and whisper-quiet prayer. The finale flings notes around the aural landscape, flashes, flickers and hammers with compulsive energy.

Buswell (last heard as soloist in Previn's recording of the Vaughan Williams violin concerto on RCA in the late 60s) is superb and characterful throughout. Not a hint of the '3-piece suit commission' about this performance or any of this music.

A great disc of rare music and at any price unmissable but this is at bargain price! Excellent recording quality, by the way, and the usual good background notes by the Ledins and a more personal contribution by the soloist.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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