Alexander PRIOR (b.1995) Velesslavitsa - Concerto for Piano, Two Violins and Cello
and orchestra (2008) [46:35]
Zhang Xiao Ming (piano);
Simone Porter (violin); Michael Province (violin); Nathan Chan (cello);
Northern Sinfonia/Alexander Prior
rec. live, The Sage, Gateshead, 29 April 2009. DDD TOCCATA TOCC0109
“In spring 2009 Channel 4 sent the sixteen-year-old British-Russian composer-conductor Alex Prior around the world: his task, to find ‘The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies’ for
a TV series with that title and to compose a concerto for them, which Alex would
This is very much a young person’s project. Prior, now 16, is in the fourth year of his studies at the St Petersburg Conservatoire where his composition teacher is Boris Tischenko. He has read widely including Prokofiev’s
diaries in Russian and Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon. His First Symphony (for strings
and percussion) was completed in 2007. The symphonic poem Stalin’s
March is said to bring out a certain barbaric brutalism. It’s from
the same year as the one-act ballet Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and another ballet Mowgli. The Second Symphony The Northern of
2007 is dedicated to Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius; the latter’s ostinati
are glimpsed in the middle and final movements of Velesslavitsa. There have been two more symphonies since then, as well as an opera, a Second Piano Concerto and an oratorio Nevsky Prospekt.
Velesslavitsa means Glory to Veles. Veles is the Slav god of music.
The music has an extravagant Russian early twentieth century nationalist feel
linking the worlds of the orthodox plainchant, the primitivism of The Rite
of Spring, a touch of Baxian-Rimskian (Russian Easter Festival)
convolution with a Kodaly-style whirl and skirl. The mood is one of smoking
fervour and volatile tension. The music is a shade diffuse in the lavishly
expansive manner of Bax’s Symphonic Variations but holds the attention
well enough. The second movement, expectantly tense, was inspired by a trip
to Lake Ilmen some miles to the south of St Petersburg. The finale starts with
the hammered emphatic drive of the finale of Nielsen’s Espansiva and
leads intro an even more heated attack from the four solo instruments and the
body of the orchestra. The voices of the four solo instruments - played by
the very prodigies Prior had set out to find for his TV project - reach out
distinctively from textures and melodic material familiar from Balakirev, Rimsky
and Borodin. The massed horns resonate with vertiginous Brucknerian command.
If one occasionally thinks of Shore’s scores for The Lord of the Rings and
Poledouris’s superb music for the two Conan films what’s the harm
in that especially when the music is as exciting as this. The composer tells
us that the movements are linked by a variant on a 15th century
chant from Valaam Monastery in Karelia.
The acoustic of The Sage is very resonant - made in heaven for a great performance
of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances! No doubt the TV programme will help sales but this has its own intrinsic attractions.
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