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George ROCHBERG (b. 1918)
Violin Concerto (1974, rev. 2001 by Christopher Lyndon-Gee in collaboration with composer) [51.44]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. Halberg Broadcasting House, Saarlandischer Rundfunk, Saarbrücken, Germany, 16-18 Apr 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.559129 [51.44] 

 


Naxos have a real winner here.

George Rochberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He found himself to be an accomplished pianist and played in jazz bands as a student to augment his income. He was seriously wounded in Europe during the Allied advance towards Germany. He counted Szell among his teachers at Mannes. The Second Symphony (1956) was greeted by the artistic world as the finest example of serialism applied to symphonic form.

The present Concerto starts uncompromisingly in crushing dissonance and aggression. However the listener soon becomes attuned to a work that moves naturally from dissonance to fibrously memorable melodic argument - completely tonal and fresh. At the same time you are coming to terms with some outstanding playing by soloist and orchestra.

Intermezzo A will stick obstinately in the memory for its demonic explosive attack. The pouncing string motif (tr. 2 1.30) has some of the massed string flavour of Arnold Rosner's writing - tragic-heroic. Along the way we hear music of vicious attack with barrages thundered out by orchestra. Skaerved picks up the note pattern and runs with it. Intermezzo B has that capricious pouncing theme instinct with character and radiating remorselessness and anger. Sometimes it is recalled in a more luminescent kindly light (2.01). Is there also a caustic humour in the fact that Intermezzo B (the fourth movement) is the longest - not quite what you expect of an intermezzo?

The documentation for the disc is all you could hope for. The recording has immediacy and impact with details registering sometimes in frightening perspective (try the section from 1.10 in Intermezzo A - lunging and thunderous). The sound is equivalent to the best Decca house-style production - a delight to hear. 

Older hands will know that this is not the first time this Concerto has been recorded. It was issued by CBS in the 1970s as an LP but what certainly had not registered with me was that that version had been heavily mutilated.

What we hear now lays to claim to be the 'restored original version' and is to be very much welcomed. This is its world premiere recording which restores more than fourteen minutes of music cut as a result of Isaac Stern's requests. Stern, the dedicatee, felt that the work was 'too long and taxing both for the violinist and for the audience.' 

I have not been able to compare the 1977 Stern/Previn recording. Has it ever been issued on CD? It is possible given the major Stern retrospect launched by Sony circa 1990. Perhaps it is as well anyway to start afresh given the anguish suffered by the composer over the butchery of those years from 1975 to 1977 during which remarkably it was publicly performed some 47 times.

This is not the first Rochberg to appear on Naxos. The same conductor and orchestra also recorded the Fifth Symphony, Black Sounds and Transcendental Variations on 8.559115. 

It is clear that the Violin Concerto project has been a labour of love going by the results. This conductor is not unafraid of the unusual. He has already given us a superb Markevitch series (with more to come) on Marco Polo (8.223653, 8.223666, 8.223724, 8.223882, 8.225054, 8.225076, 8.225120). He has also provided a splendid recording of one of the twentieth century's most turbulently exciting wartime works, Arthur Benjamin's Symphony (also Marco Polo) as well as a Naxos collection of Varese orchestral works (8.554820). Lyndon-Gee numbers among his teachers Rudolf Schwarz, Franco Ferrara, Goffredo Petrassi and Markevitch. He is also a composer and is currently working on two major orchestral works - The Auschwitz Poems and Socrates' Death. He was also the conductor for the world premiere of an opera recently issued by ABC - Larry Sitsky's The Golem. 

The Rochberg concerto is a powerful work with music of grit and emotionally fluency sustained across five meaty movements. It stands alongside the superb William Schuman concerto (also recorded by Naxos) as one of the finest concerted works by an American composer.  Who knows, Naxos may yet, at this rate, give us the orchestral works of Ronald  Stevenson which also include a Violin Concerto of similar dimensions and impact. 

Rob Barnett 

 


 


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