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John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
The Red Violin Caprices (2002) [9:33]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) [23:08]
Virgil THOMSON (1896-1989)

Three Portraits (arr. Samuel Dushkin) (1944) [6:12]
Five Ladies (1983) [8:29]
Eight Portraits (1928-1940) [17:23]
Philippe Quint (violin)
William Wolfram (piano)
rec. Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, Canada, 10-11 June 2007; St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Canada, 27 January 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.559364 [64.46]
Experience Classicsonline

John Corigliano is many things: a Pulitzer prize winner for his 2nd Symphony, a highly regarded film composer, and the composer of some of the modern masterworks among orchestral concertos. He writes for a myriad instruments and in many contrasting styles, often even in the same work. However, with all of the diversity, there is one point of consistency to his compositional style. He aims to remain accessible for the average listener while still writing music worthy of note by the professors and critics.

As such he was an ideal composer for the 1998 movie The Red Violin. The score requires original compositions in the styles of five different locales and periods, all the while holding together as a single musical and theatrical thread. After the movie came out Corigliano made a six-movement suite from the material. The opening thematic statement is simple and somber with the variations reflecting styles as diverse as folk music and Paganini. The virtuosity demanded of the performer is impressive. As one would hope of a premier recording, Philippe Quint is more than up to the challenge on this work, and the others presented on this album. He effortlessly rattles off the acrobatic runs fully filling the sonic space with his instrument. On this recording he is easily the equal of Joshua Bell, who performed the material in the film.

The other Corigliano work here, Sonata for Violin and Piano, is in four movements for violin and piano. This is among Corigliano's earliest works, written in 1963. The opening is a somewhat angular and energetic dialog between violin and piano, both vying for attention and, here, both seeming to deserve it. The second movement is a melancholy, emotional, wistful melody accompanied by a pensive piano. The third movement finally gives way to the piano for an opening declamation, and then features passages where both instruments play unaccompanied or commingled but not necessarily intertwined. Finally the fourth movement is truly virtuosic with polyrhythms and polymeters galore. This is the work of a man who wants to write a duet rather than a violin sonata with piano accompaniment. Throughout the virtuosity is there to achieve musical means, not merely to show off the musician's ability to play a lot of notes in a short time. When the performers are up to the task the work is among the shining examples of the violin concerto. Again, the performers are suited to the task. The work is not often recorded, and this particular recording could prove to be definitive.

Aside from the two Corigliano works, there are three collections of musical "portraits" by Virgil Thomson. Each movement is either titled or subtitled with a person's name, and one assumes is endowed with the personalities of the namesakes. These are generally speaking not the virtuosic powerhouses that the first works are, but each one is - nearly by definition - a highly personal piece where piano and violin intertwine to form a musician's interpretation of a person's essence. One must assume that each 1-2 minute piece exposes nationality or temperament through song style. For instance he titled some of the movements Tango Lullaby: A Portrait of Mlle. Alvarez de Toledo or Cynthia Kember: A Fanfare.

The performance of each work is solid and interesting. Each short work is given its full attention and due. So while the individual "portraits" vary in style and substance, sometimes being chamber works and other times being solo violin, sometimes being atonal and other times seeming very nearly Classical in style, each performance is exquisite.

For any lover of Corigliano or the solo violin this disc is a real find. None of these pieces are often recorded, and all of them are outstanding, both from a compositional and performance standpoint.

Patrick Gary

see also review by Dan Morgan


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