Richard Mills’ three string concertos were written
in fairly quick succession, between 1990 and 1994; but each of them
has its own character. All three are superbly written for the soloists
and Mills’ orchestral expertise sees to it that, whatever the setting,
the soloist’s music always comes through clearly and directly.
The Cello Concerto is "a dramatic
monologue for cello and orchestra", as Yvonne Frindle rightly remarks.
It is a tightly argued symphonic work in which all the musical material
derives from the opening gestures. Its four sections are thematically
connected and the basic material is organically developed, thus emphasising
the symphonic structure of the whole piece. It opens with a declamatory
prelude played by the cello with some orchestral outbursts punctuating
the cello’s meditation. This is followed by an Allegro section leading
into a meditative Adagio in turn fading into the final section Cadenza/Recitative
restating variants of the earlier thematic material. The concerto ends
as abruptly as it had begun. Mills’ Cello Concerto is an intense, utterly
serious and often dramatic work of substance and of great beauty.
Mills’ Violin Concerto was written for
Carl Pini. It is again a single movement in three linked section following
the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern; and, once again, most of the
music derives from the opening material consisting in a toccata-like
motoric gesture followed by a lyrical cantabile. The solo part
is quite demanding and difficult, but this is never virtuosity for virtuosity’s
sake. Again, the single movement structure of the piece rather tends
to emphasise the symphonic character of the work in which the soloist
is just a partner rather than an opponent. If you respond to, say, Walton’s
Violin Concerto or to Prokofiev’s concertos, you will know what to expect
from Mills’ own essay in the genre.
Mills’ Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
is scored for orchestral forces of almost classical proportions (single
wind quintet and a small body of strings), though with piano and some
percussion. This is Mills’ most classically poised concerto and the
scoring for small forces results in transparent, luminous textures never
obscuring the soloists’ lines. The concerto is laid-out in three movements
with a fairly weighty and substantial central Passacaglia. Once
again, the opening thematic material stated in the first bars provides
for most of the ensuing music.
Mills’ string concertos are serious, utterly honest
and often beautiful works that clearly show another facet of this composer’s
music. They also demonstrate his remarkable instrumental and orchestral
flair, as well as his ability to think in term of symphonic development.
His concertos are no mere showpieces for instrumental virtuosity, and
the soloists must be full partners rather than brilliant, but indifferent
outsiders. All three are really very fine (and the Cello Concerto much
more than that) and definitely deserve to be better known. I hope that
these superb performances will prompt some soloists to investigate these
fine, though still too little known works. I for one now look forward
to hearing more of Richard Mills’ music.