Violin Concerto (1993) [41:48]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Roger Norrington
rec. Air/Lyndhurst Hall, Hampstead, London, September
SONY CLASSICAL SK62856
This isn’t a new release. Maw’s Violin Concerto was written with
Joshua Bell specifically in mind in 1993; the recording followed
in September 1996. In the very enthusiastic sleeve-notes – I’m
not sure how Maw feels about being described as a “genius” – great
play is made of the work in relation to the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Certainly it has a complex romantic affiliation but the composers’
names that occurred to me were those of Prokofiev and Walton.
Not that Maw could be remotely taken to be either of them – but
in its cultivation of an almost Italianate lyricism it does summon
up the memory of Walton’s Mediterranean work and in its fusion
of melodic beauty and scherzo drama it must pay at least oblique,
tangential historical homage to Prokofiev.
The Concerto is
cast in four movements. It opens with ruminative slowness
but then opens out into a flourishing, rich and luminous sound
world, bedecked by manifold orchestral and solo felicities;
those little orchestral lurches toward the end for instance.
The second movement is indeed Walton-like in its vivacity
but Maw’s control of lingering lyricism, finely woven into
the work’s fabric, ensures seamless warmth from the current-swell
of dynamism that he generates. The lodestones here are Prokofiev
and Barber but they’re securely absorbed into Maw’s lyric
modernist world. The powerful cadential passage over a sustained
orchestral chord is followed by a muted upwards drift into
orchestral nothingness, a Cherubini-like stroke of translucent
and mysterious beauty.
for major chords – the C major especially – permeates the
third movement. Harmonies are richly complex and there are
elements of post-impressionism in the writing, as well glimmers
of Berg; but over and above such composer-spotting moments,
which are essentially incidental, is the sense of luminous
quiet, the rapture, the specific and yet endless personal
landscape that Maw evokes. And when he unleashes the finale
it comes brimful with tunes, vibrant and exciting, richly
plays with the romantic ardour that Maw identified – and so
admires – in him. His playing manages to balance scrupulous
cleanliness of attack with tonal warmth and pliant phrasing.
Norrington marshals the LPO in assured, colouristically aware
fashion and the recording does full justice to the enterprise.
The Maw is a concerto
that embraces its historical lineage without being shackled
by it. If you admire the Berg, Barber, Walton and Prokofiev
concertos, and like orchestration that is both luminous and
pulsing then this is the work for you.
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John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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