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Ellen Taaffe ZWILICH (b. 1939)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1998) [26:03]*
Rituals for five percussionists and orchestra (2002) [25:59] **
Pamela Frank (violin)
Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michael Stern
*. NEXUS / IRIS Chamber Orchestra/Michael Stern**
Recorded on 18th October 1998 (Concerto) in the Kongresshalle, Saarbrucken, Germany * and on
7th March 2004 in the Germanstown Performing Arts Centre, Tennessee, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.559268 [52:04]
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For this recording of the Zwilich concerto Naxos has engaged an excellent young soloist who brings her superb technique to bear on this lovely work. In doing so they have has scored another hit in their American Music Series. The Violin Concerto is written in modern tonal style with sweeping melodies developed with great assurance throughout the work.

Like almost every other American composer, she has received prizes, recommendations and awards. Does anyone agree with me that the value of the award is inversely proportional to the numbers awarded. Still with this composer, I would say that they were worth awarding. The Violin Concerto is written in conventional three movement style with a medium speed first movement, a slower middle movement, and a faster finale. In contrast to many other concertos like this there are no Italian or other language speed descriptors against each movement, merely metronome markings – ca.62, ca.58 and ca.152.

The second (slow) movement is based upon the Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita, and the original is well to the fore in this modification of the original. The movement is extremely attractive, and deserves to be better known.

The Concerto is described by the New York Times as "A Love Song for the Violin"; who am I to disagree. Soloist and orchestra bring their customary skill to bear and I enjoyed the results immensely.

The coupling "Rituals for Five Percussionists and Orchestra", uses smaller forces than the Concerto. Its nature is quite different from the Concerto but that is of no consequence. Invocations is highly declamatory and the forward movement is somewhat restricted as you might imagine. When we get to Ambulation, a firm forward movement is set by the orchestra, with the percussion in parts, trying to disrupt progress. About a third of the way through the percussionists seem to have thrown in the towel, and they start supporting the rhythm. Remembrances is altogether more sedate, with the percussion playing more of a bell-like role supporting the orchestra at the much slower tempo. The final movement, Contests is just that – a hell-for-leather contest between percussionists and orchestra. I have not yet made up my mind who wins, but the percussion have the lion’s share of the action close to the final loud chords for orchestra. We have an absolute myriad of instruments in the percussion battery, which makes a welcome change from the two marimbas and side drum percussion ensembles. The recording engineers must have had great fun balancing the percussion instruments with the orchestra; I can’t imagine it being done any better.

Well done Naxos – another hit in the American Music series.

John Phillips

see also review by Colin Clarke - October Bargain of the Month



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