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Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Violin Concerto in A major Op. 8 (1902) [27.00]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)

Ballade in G minor Op. 16 No. 1 (1871) [11.25]
Violin Concerto in C major Op. 30 (1882) [34.13]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
Rec. Caird Hall, Dundee, 11-12 Sept 2003
HYPERION CDA67389 [72.38]

How times change! Before the 1990s, tonal music - music with a definite tune, music that was immediately accessible, that appealed straight to the heart and spirit, that was easy on the ear, was definitely out, passé, only for the proletariat. Nowadays, tonal music is acceptable once more; even warmly welcomed.

When we are young and just discovering music, we are bowled over by the immediate emotional impact of the music of such composers as Tchaikovsky and Puccini etc. I suspect that many of us then go on to consider them blasé because of their unambiguous, instant appeal and distinctive melodies, but return to them in later maturity to discover their very real strengths and frequently undervalued and unappreciated subtleties.

Over the last decade or two, through the adventurousness of the 'indies' - Hyperion, Chandos, Naxos et al, we have been able to listen to much meritorious music, music long lost or neglected. At times, however, I think we tend to go overboard in an over-enthusiastic welcoming of such material. I mention all this because it seems to me that the music on this new Hyperion album could fit into this category.

Much praise has been heaped on the music of Mieczysław Karłowicz following the release of two best-selling albums of his music on the Chandos label. Lithuanian-born Karłowicz 's brief life was cut short by a tragic accident when he was still in his early thirties; he was killed by an avalanche while skiing. It therefore has to be accepted that his music was at that time still heavily influenced by other composers and probably he had yet to find his own true individual voice.

The Violin Concerto is a fine composition, no mistake about it and it will visit my CD player again, but it is so derivative. As Martin Eastick notes "Tchaikovsky's influence predominates" - in fact it dominates. Someone coming blind to this concerto might be forgiven in thinking "I didn't know Tchaikovsky wrote a second violin concerto." All the Tchaikovsky mannerisms are evident throughout the opening movement. It is certainly very appealing with its stirring and lyrical melodies - but it does not have Tchaikovsky's emotional depth or his melodic impact. Karlowicz's central Romanza:Andante is lovely and sweetly affecting and yet I could not dispel the feeling that it was all rather too reminiscent of Max Bruch, again without the sheer romanticism of that composer's more famous Violin Concerto. The most original movement is the Vivace (still nodding towards Tchaikovsky) but with some nicely stated wit. Tasmin Little rises to its virtuoso challenges and, in fact, is most sympathetic to the Concerto's bravura and affecting lyricism.

Moszkowski is best remembered for those splendidly colourful and melodic Spanish Dances and a gorgeously tuneful Piano Concerto. Although the Violin Concerto does not have the same immediate appeal, it has considerable merit. It is a substantial work of some 35 minutes and designed to show off the soloist's virtuosity. The opening movement is sunny and sweetly lyrical with a fresh out-of-doors appeal and an agreeable lilting main tune. It is reminiscent of Mendelssohn. There is little high passion but there is plenty of demanding dense passage-work for the soloist. I felt that a bit of judicious editing to shorten this opening movement might have strengthened its appeal. The Concerto's strength is undoubtedly the central Andante, beautiful, meditative - sweet memories recalled in sweet nostalgia? Max Bruch and Elgar came to mind. The joyous finale marked, Vivace is certainly vivacious, swift and mercurial, and it keeps Tasmin fully stretched. She rises to its many technical challenges with aplomb. I should say at this point that Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra provide excellent support - plenty of romantic bravura - throughout this album.

The short Ballade is sweetly lyrical, and once again rather Mendelssohnian in outlook with an appealing tune and mildly bravura material that suggests a hunt. Again there is sufficient virtuoso challenge.

An appealing if derivative Karłowicz Concerto combined with the sunny, lyrical Moszkowski works for violin and orchestra played with verve and sensitivity by Tasmin Little.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett


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