have a real winner here.
George Rochberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He found himself to be an accomplished pianist
and played in jazz bands as a student to augment his income.
He was seriously wounded in Europe during the Allied advance towards Germany. He counted Szell among his teachers at Mannes. The
Second Symphony (1956) was greeted by the artistic world as
the finest example of serialism applied to symphonic form.
The present Concerto starts uncompromisingly in crushing
dissonance and aggression. However the listener soon becomes
attuned to a work that moves naturally from dissonance to fibrously
memorable melodic argument - completely tonal and fresh. At
the same time you are coming to terms with some outstanding
playing by soloist and orchestra.
Intermezzo A will stick obstinately in the memory for
its demonic explosive attack. The pouncing string motif (tr.
2 1.30) has some of the massed string flavour of Arnold Rosner's
writing - tragic-heroic. Along the way we hear music of vicious
attack with barrages thundered out by orchestra. Skaerved picks
up the note pattern and runs with it. Intermezzo B has that
capricious pouncing theme instinct with character and radiating
remorselessness and anger. Sometimes it is recalled in a more
luminescent kindly light (2.01). Is there also a caustic humour
in the fact that Intermezzo B (the fourth movement) is the longest
- not quite what you expect of an intermezzo?
The documentation for the disc is all you could hope
for. The recording has immediacy and impact with details registering
sometimes in frightening perspective (try the section from 1.10
in Intermezzo A - lunging and thunderous). The sound is equivalent
to the best Decca house-style production - a delight to hear.
Older hands will know that this is not the first time
this Concerto has been recorded. It was issued by CBS in the
1970s as an LP but what certainly had not registered with me
was that that version had been heavily mutilated.
What we hear now lays to claim to be the 'restored original
version' and is to be very much welcomed. This is its world
premiere recording which restores more than fourteen minutes
of music cut as a result of Isaac Stern's requests. Stern, the
dedicatee, felt that the work was 'too long and taxing both
for the violinist and for the audience.'
I have not been able to compare the 1977 Stern/Previn
recording. Has it ever been issued on CD? It is possible given
the major Stern retrospect launched by Sony circa 1990. Perhaps
it is as well anyway to start afresh given the anguish suffered
by the composer over the butchery of those years from 1975 to
1977 during which remarkably it was publicly performed some
This is not the first Rochberg to appear on Naxos. The
same conductor and orchestra also recorded the Fifth Symphony,
Black Sounds and Transcendental Variations on 8.559115.
It is clear that the Violin Concerto project has been
a labour of love going by the results. This conductor is not
unafraid of the unusual. He has already given us a superb Markevitch
series (with more to come) on Marco Polo (8.223653, 8.223666,
8.223724, 8.223882, 8.225054, 8.225076, 8.225120). He has also
provided a splendid recording of one of the twentieth century's
most turbulently exciting wartime works, Arthur Benjamin's Symphony
(also Marco Polo) as well as a Naxos collection of Varese orchestral
works (8.554820). Lyndon-Gee numbers among his teachers Rudolf
Schwarz, Franco Ferrara, Goffredo Petrassi and Markevitch. He
is also a composer and is currently working on two major orchestral
works - The Auschwitz Poems and Socrates' Death. He was also
the conductor for the world premiere of an opera recently issued
by ABC - Larry Sitsky's The Golem.
concerto is a powerful work with music of grit and emotionally
fluency sustained across five meaty movements. It stands alongside
the superb William Schuman concerto (also recorded by Naxos)
as one of the finest concerted works by an American composer.
Who knows, Naxos may yet, at this rate, give us the orchestral
works of Ronald Stevenson which also include a Violin Concerto
of similar dimensions and impact.