Corigliano is a man of many talents – composer,
teacher, record producer. This enterprising disc showcases
both his earlier work (the violin sonata) and a set of
variations based on his score for François Girard’s 1997
film The Red Violin
. Sensibly, Naxos have paired
them with violin vignettes by Virgil Thomson, perhaps
best known for his film scores The Plow That Broke
and The River.
Russian-born violinist Philippe Quint may not be a household
name on this side of the Atlantic but he has made quite
an impact in his adopted homeland. Apart from winning
a slew of prestigious awards he is dedicated to performing
American music. He is partnered here by the charismatic
pianist William Wolfram, who made an impact of his own
with a fine disc of Donizetti opera transcriptions [see review
Briefly, The Red
traces the travels of the eponymous instrument
from Italy in the late 1600s to 19th
England, China during the Cultural Revolution and finally
to Canada in the 1990s. The conceit will be familiar
to anyone who has read Accordion Crimes
won an Academy Award for the original score,
he has reworked as a set of five variations. From the
outset it’s clear we are in the presence of a very fine
fiddler. Quint produces a lovely warm tone in the elegiac
opening to Variation 1, not to mention some scintillating
passagework in the ensuing Con bravura. But it’s in the
third variation that he really surprises, with an almost
throaty sound. He seems perfectly in control at all times,
especially in the quick, rhythmically precise writing
towards the end of this variation. In Variation 4 he
is wonderfully eloquent, too, and the instrument’s upper
registers really sing. He also imbues the music with
a meditative quality that is most attractive, notably
in the final variation. Even in the more agitated passages
he bows with great precision and bite, the engineers
capturing the weight and character of sound very well
anyone looking to sample Corigliano’s work this is an
excellent place to start. His music is described as ‘neo-tonal’ but
as so often the label doesn’t tell you a great deal about
what to expect. Lightweight it may be but this is skilful
music adroitly played. Ditto the violin sonata, where
Quint is joined by Wolfram, whose first imperious entry
is a sign of what’s to follow. Both soloists are warmly
recorded, the violin tone nicely balanced by a weighty
proves he can play quietly and with feeling in the Andantino,
in marked contrast to his jaunty Allegro. They both respond
well to this meanderingly beautiful movement. But even
here the music has a habit of modulating into something
a little wilder before returning to its gentle wanderings.
Indeed, there are times when one is reminded of Korngold’s
violin concerto. But whatever the echoes it’s delectable
stuff and superbly played.
third movement – Lento – is more austere than anything
we’ve heard thus far; Wolfram restrains the violin’s
attempts to break free with darker more declamatory music.
The tension is never fully resolved – shades of Shostakovich’s
piano trios, perhaps – the movement ending in an enigmatic
final Allegro has a rollicking, silent-film quality that
conceals writing of some subtlety and skill. Wolfram
springs the rhythms with real affection, Quint shooting
the musical rapids with ease. It’s a witty and engaging
conclusion to a delightful work, helped by playing of
rare commitment. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this performance
being easily trumped.
Thomson, like his contemporary Aaron Copland, belongs
to that small group of composers whose work captures
the spirit of America, whether in rousing tributes to
the Wild West or evocations of its landscapes and rivers.
But the works recorded here are altogether more urban – sophisticated,
even – dating as they do from Thomson’s years in Paris.
, arranged for violin and piano by Samuel
Dushkin, are charming vignettes. It’s not essential
to identify the subjects, who are rendered here with
obvious insight. The first is a tipsy barcarolle, the
second a haughty tango, both essayed with rhythmic
subtlety and an artist’s eye for defining detail. The
bird-like third portrait, complete with trills, is
for violin alone. Fresh, open, never sly or knowing,
these pieces are little gems.
written in the 1930s but only published in 1983, offers more of the
same but this time without the intervention of an arranger.
If anything these pieces are more focused, the writing
more distinctive than before. They really are the simplest
of sketches, a series of telling musical pencil strokes.
The soloists echo this disarmingly simple style with
playing of lightness and grace.
, written between 1928 and 1940, give
Quint another chance to demonstrate his skills. At
first they can seem a little dry, almost like a set
of practice pieces, but Quint individualises each of
them with a range of mood and colour that is most impressive.
That said, the material is overstretched at times.
Minor caveats aside this really is playing of a high
order, self-possessed yet never self-regarding.
fine performances of rarely heard works are what make
the American Classics series indispensable. Indeed, this
is one of the most consistently satisfying projects in
the entire Naxos catalogue. And while this disc doesn’t
qualify as mould-breaking or profound, it’s well worth