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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Manuel M PONCE (1882-1946)
Violin Concerto (1943) [32.14]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)

Violin Concerto Op. 35 (1945) [25.20]
Miranda Cuckson (violin)
Czech National SO/Paul Freeman
rec. 9-10 Oct, 1-2 Dec 1999, ICN Polyart Studio, Prague. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2513 [57.52]

These are two American violin concertos written during wartime within two years of each other.

Ponce, Mexico's leading composer, allowing for Revueltas and Chavez, dedicated this, his last major composition, to Henryk Szeryng. But for Szeryng's exclusive championship this is the sort of work that, in its indefatigable hoarse lyrical energy, would have been a natural for Heifetz. It has no truck with dodecaphony nor with neo-classical anaemia. It is just an outright singer of a work which you can group with the Barber, the Ivanovs and the Walton. It is romantic to a fault - a lovely piece.

Miranda Cuckson is not abashed by the various Szeryng recordings nor should she be for hers is a most attentive and loving performance. In case you are wondering, Ponce does not indulge in the percussion experiments of Revueltas or Chavez. He had one world-wide hit in the popular song Estrellita (which was recorded by Heifetz!). There is a reference to it in the strings beneath the soloist's arabesques at the end of the second movement. Interesting to note that this concerto was started shortly after Ponce had completed his guitar concerto, Concierto del Sur, for Segovia. Nationalist feeling is only really noticeable in the finale.

While Ponce may have had to struggle with less than world class standards in Mexico City, Korngold, a stranger in a strange land, anxious to please and survive, had the pick of world's greatest musicians in California. Many were, like him, refugees from European pogroms. There are parallels in the Korngold work with the Ponce. They both share an access to melodic fluency. However in Korngold's case the concerto gives free rein to an irresistible sentimentality - all schlagobers and coffee. I found the starry in-your-face intimidating lushness of the Heifetz RCA recording a positive turnoff at one time and turned my back on the concerto. My interest was only ignited by Hoelscher's EMI version (now Redline) and the Anima-Mathé Dorian recording. Anima-Mathéís more objective approach reaps rewards and presents the concerto without the choking tide of caramel. Cuckson is no Huberman, Heifetz or Kulenkampff but she certainly plays this work convincingly. In this she is aided by the same orchestra that made such a superb job with Serebrier of the JanŠček orchestral music (Reference Recordings).

I liked the Korngold more than my colleague Jonathan Woolf. It will please the collector who buys it for the Ponce and tries the disdained Korngold work. Cuckson really does make a lyrically restrained job of the Romance and Paul Freeman's orchestra accomplishes many caring touches especially in that movement which plays out with vibraphone and a starry firmament of violins. It hardly matters that the thematic material for this work has been appropriated, presumably without contractual problems, from Korngold's Warner Brothers' film scores.

Certainly worth hearing alongside Hoelscher (EMI Red Line), Mintz (Universal DG), Perlman (EMI) and Anima-Mathé (Dorian) as a freshening relief from Heifetz's relentless hegemony.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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