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Richard WERNICK (b 1934)

Piano Concerto (1989-90)
Violin Concerto (1984)
Lambert Orkis (piano)
Gregory Fulkerson (violin)
Symphony II
Conductors; Richard Wernick (Piano Concerto); Larry Rachleff (Violin Concerto)
Recorded at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois May 1995 (Violin Concerto) and May 1997 (Piano Concerto)
BRIDGE 9082 [52.23]


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Richard Wernick was a pupil of a number of distinguished talents – Ernst Toch, Aaron Copland and Boris Blacher amongst them. He was himself a teacher for nearly thirty years at the University of Chicago; not that there is anything remotely academic or didactic about these two strongly characterised and powerfully argued concertos. As Bernard Jacobson’s notes judiciously aver Wernick’s music fuses technical expertise and a highly personalised use of tonal and near tonal elements. Structurally individual as well, Wernick’s concertos resist confident critical judgement. He belongs to no convenient "school" and his often rough hewn and angular music is full of the most impressive sonorities and conjunctions.


The Piano Concerto was composed between 1989 and 1990, commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington and Mstislav Rostropovich – and it was premiered by them and by Lambert Orkis in February 1991. A complex fantasia first movement ("Tintinnabula Academiae Musicae") opens with some viciously saturnine trombones contrasted with the solo piano’s almost pointillist displacements before some resolute and decisive rhythmic attacks. By some way the longest of the three movements it gathers itself in intensity and complexity and by the time of its final peroration the orchestra has grown impressively stentorian, with brass dominant, percussion strong and the piano taking an ever more expansive role. The slow movement is static, rather romantic, with Mahlerian hints, bedecked with some rather keeningly expressive orchestral solos. The middle section however, in utter contrast, is fractious and active, insinuating with percussive drive before a sense of dappled calm returns, flecked and rapturous and yearning. The brisk finale ("Réjouissance") is ebullient, with virtuoso percussion and driving, unstoppable culminatory spirit.


The Violin Concerto was written a few years earlier, in 1984, and was premiered in 1986 by Gregory Fulkerson with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti. Wernick, something of a master of oppositional trajectory, sets up nervous energy in profusion in the first movement – in which the edgy solo violin is contrasted with the assured orchestral responses. The massed orchestra is more powerful, slow moving and less nimble than the protagonist who, finally, at the short movement’s conclusion has the last, decisive word. In the slow movement – the longest at over twelve minutes – Wernick explores incremental changes of texture and tempo, discovering moments of almost spectral intensity, assailed, but never consumed, by the orchestra’s jabbing, baleful brass. The finale follows immediately from the involved complexity of the slow movement. It’s tough, pungent, rhythmically exultant but attempting to resolve thematic material previously left unresolved. It is intriguing that the full-scale cadenza toward the end of the work is not at all experimental but firmly in "The Tradition". It seems in some oblique way to recognise some hierarchical place in the syntax of the concerto form in which to explore thematic material. And it does so in a confirmatory and affirmatory way, drawing together strands that lead satisfactorily to the conclusion of the work.

Wernick uses dissonant counterpoint; his rhythms are dramatic and driving; his orchestration is colourful, his lineage eclectic, his gift for oppositions, for characterisation strong. These are tough works in many ways and I wouldn’t want to pretend otherwise, but they are creatively tough and journey with intense drama and feeling.

Jonathan Woolf


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