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Manuel PONCE (1882 - 1948)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1943)
Allegro non troppo
Andante espressivo
Vivo, giocoso

Eric Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 - 1957)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major Op. 35 (1937-39)
Moderato nobile
Romance: Andante
Finale: Allegro assai vivace

Miranda Cuckson (violin)
Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Paul Freeman
Recorded at ICN Polyart, Prague, October 9 and 10, December 1 and 2, 1999
[57. 52]

Both concertos date from within six years of each other; Korngold’s from 1937 to 1939, Ponce’s in 1943. Frankly there is all the difference in the world between them, with Korngold’s the far superior in melodic invention, orchestration and sensual pleasure. Ponce’s work never really gets itself off the ground, seems to be searching for a style other than the French-Mexican brew to which it constantly returns. Ponce became a great friend of Segovia and wrote his best music for the guitar, whereas here he seems restrained in his harmonic vocabulary and a far cry from modernism. Not that Korngold breaks the bounds of tonality; on the contrary he concocts a mélange of featherbedded, lush instrumentation and Hollywood melodies that have been and are still being emulated down the years in all sorts of blockbuster movies. Ponce’s concerto is a late work with reminiscences of his youth and later studies with Dukas in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Mexican flavour lies predictably enough in the rhythmic underlay of the accompaniment, with dances such as the mestizo or the fandanguito, and strummed backgrounds in guitar-like colours. In the second movement Ponce recalls a youthful success, his arrangement of the folksong Estrellita which made him famous in 1910. The finale fuses traditional Mexican dance once again this time with the corrido, a narrative ballad.

Miranda Cuckson does her best for Ponce but succeeds far more with Korngold, and that goes for the orchestra too. Ponce’s concerto gets a dull performance while in Korngold’s all the players get to the heart of the music from the start. Ponce’s concerto may well grow on you, but the disc is worth having for the Korngold, though here again the competition is tough starting with Heifetz.

Christopher Fifield

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