Alexander PRIOR (b.1992)
Velesslavitsa - Concerto for two violins, cello and piano (2008) [46:35]
Michael Province, Simone Porter (violins)
Nathan Chan (cello)
Zhang Xiao Ming (piano)
Northern Sinfonia/Alexander Prior
rec. The Sage, Gateshead 29 April 2009. DDD.

At 16, Alexander Prior was sent, by Channel 4 TV, around the world to find “the world’s greatest musical prodigies”, and then to write a Concerto for them. This work is the result. In his introductory note, Martin Anderson tells us just how talented Prior is, and that even before hearing a note of his music, “I knew this was no ordinary fourteen year old”. Oddly when I briefly met Prior, a couple of years after this, I felt exactly the opposite.

What we have here is a very long, actually a too long, work, which shows a young composer trying to find himself and working through the various influences which bombard a young musician these days. There’s everything from a bit of Vaughan Williams in the solo violin writing - shades of The Lark Ascending - some Copland, a morsel of Arvo Pärt, and some quasi-virtuoso writing for the soloists, accompanied by rather dull orchestral writing. The slow movement contains some of the sounds one finds in Alex North’s or Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores for film, but here it lacks the brooding intensity. To all of this is added a Sibelian horn call. The little-boy-Chinese-tinkly piano solo - at 2:45 - rather spoils things, and ruins any atmosphere which has been built. The finale starts as does Carl Nielsen’s 3rd Symphony, with big hammered notes, before launching into a tune which tries to be Hollywood but because the composer feels there must be virtuoso writing for the soloists all real momentum is lost.

Prior has garnered some fine reviews for his work - which includes Symphonies, Concertos, two ballets, two operas, and a Requiem - one even claiming that he is “No longer a Wunderkind, he's well on the way to being a Wunder-adult." One wonders just how often this particular writer attends student concerts at the various conservatories in London where music as good as, and, quite often, better than this can be heard almost daily. Prior isn’t yet anywhere near becoming a Wunder-adult, and on the strength of this work he’s not a Wunder-kind either, but there is the beginning of a talent. Then again, there are many more like him in London, alone. Prior will probably become a big name because he has backing. And that is more important than anything else these days.

What I hear here isn’t really worth our time. It’s a poor piece of work, poorly constructed, poorly executed, with a lack of real imagination and a total lack of flair.
Here’s an interesting point. By the time Erich Wolfgang Korngold was the age Prior was when he wrote Velesslavitsa he had completed the first two Piano Sonatas (1908 and 1910), the Don Quixote (1909) and Märchenbilder (1910) piano suites, the Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (1911), and the astonishing Sinfonietta (1912), both for large orchestra, as well as a Piano Trio (1910), a Violin Sonata (1912), a String Sextet (1917) and he was about to give the world his first two operas Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta. All these works are written in Korngold’s own personal style and are vital and urgent works of musical art. Korngold’s is the work of a true Wunderkind. By the side of this man Prior is a mere beginner.

I find that I cannot bring myself to praise this disk for I find nothing in the music worthy of it. The recording and notes are good.

Bob Briggs

I find nothing in the music worthy of praise.