Right from track 1 – the first movement of the Ernest Bloch
Concerto – it becomes apparent that these sessions were captured
in a really resonant acoustic. It’s a deeply impressive hall conveyed
through a warm yet unclouded and analytical sound-image. This
suits well the hoarse primitive fanfares that launch the Bloch
Concerto in what is a very likeable and strong performance. The
conductor tells me that rather than attempt a
martial sound in the beginning fanfare he thought he would try
to make it sound more like a shofar: “for me it is more a call
to worship or ritual than to arms”.
It had me engaging
emotionally with a work which previously I have found only intermittently
enthralling. The EMI Menuhin recording never really won me over
and at one stage it was the only choice. It left me remembering
only those “Ancient of Days” fanfares. Oliveira, John McLaughlin
Williams, the Ukrainian orchestra and audio engineers have turned
that around. This the best recorded version I have heard and
the performance matches its technical excellence. The tenderness
of the Bloch never becomes effusive or sentimental. There is
austerity too but this asserts itself through economy of emotional
expression. It is a fascinating account of a romantic concerto
that lacks a really big tune. Its palette is capacious and its
sense of fantasy does not tip over into luxuriance. At various
times this tonal work might recall the contemporaneous Bax concerto
or the much later Bliss. It makes a very satisfying impression.
This is emotionally nourishing music played to the hilt by a
violinist whose exalted credentials were always clear from his
classic Barber (EMI – recently reissued), Achron
Credendum and Violin
was born in China of Russian parentage. He held various
academic posts at the Juilliard, Peabody, Baltimore, Queen's
College, New York and Manhattan School of Music. Ruggiero Ricci
recorded his Violin Concerto for Vox (see
review) and this is a sure indication of the high regard
in which he is held by the musical establishment. Many his works
have been recorded and are accessible to the listening public.
His symphonies 2, 3 and 5 were issued by Albany in a very fine
twin CD set (see review).
Naxos issued his moving Symphony No. 4 Memorial Candles in
its American Classics series (see review). He
was first non-British composer to be awarded the Sir
Arnold Bax Society Medal (London 1958).
The Lees Violin
Concerto was written in 1958 while Lees was in France. It was
premiered by Henryk Szeryng in Boston in 1963. A traditional
work, it inventively deploys a tonal palette and treatment across
three movements: two slow and one quick. It is mercurial with
chameleon-mood changes and is neither as scarifying nor as hyper-tensile
as the Schuman concerto which it occasionally echoes as in the
emphatically punched out passage at 2.12 in the slalom swaying
finale. There are three movements of which the Andante
makes determined and angular play with intriguing rhythmic devices.
It sometimes recalls the fragrance and fantasy of the Bax Violin
Concerto of 1937. Its finely honed melodies and some of the
treatments are tugged between the tropics of Walton and Prokofiev
(1). The Adagio is characterised by some pristinely calculated
effects: part balm, part threat (6:31). If the finale seems
to have more action than substance it is an example of the perennial
problem of how to write a conclusion.
century concertos, presented with great commitment, accomplishment
and inspiration as well as being well documented. Can we hope
for other American violin concertos, I wonder: the concertos by
Edward Burlinghame Hill and Frederick Converse should also be
worth discovering. I am also fairly sure that there are several
works for violin and orchestra by Charles Martin Loeffler.
of the Bloch Violin Concerto: