Esa-Pekka SALONEN (b. 1958)
Violin Concerto (2009) [29:04]
Nyx (2010) [19:15]
Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, September 2011 (Nyx) and March 2012 (Violin Concerto)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 0628 [48:23]
One often tends to forget that Salonen for all his conducting activities is also a distinguished composer. His comparatively limited output consists of painstakingly chiselled works of substance. This recent release offers two quite recent works composed a couple of years ago.
The Violin Concerto is laid-out in four movements: Mirage, Pulse I (slow), Pulse II (Scherzo) and Adieu. The first movement opens in media res with torrents of notes from the soloist mostly with light and subtle accompaniment: celesta, glockenspiel, harp and vibraphone. At times, though, the orchestra takes over briefly with weightier, darker pedal points sometimes swelling to shattering, though short-lived climaxes. The movement ends unresolved. The ensuing Pulse I is the concerto's short, slow movement whereas Pulse II is its somewhat longer Scherzo that “dances and swings like a folk band from an alien planet”. However, the core and emotional heart of the entire work is the final Adieu, a beautiful lyrical meditation. It, too, ends unresolved with the music gliding away calmly.
Salonen's Violin Concerto is clearly of the virtuoso kind but the technical challenges, though real, are certainly not gratuitous. The music is often warmly lyrical and quite often beautiful. It is not easy but Leila Josefowicz rises superbly to the many technical challenges while doing full justice to the music's real expressive strength. Like some of his Finnish colleagues such as Lindberg, Kaipainen and – to a certain extent – Saariaho, Salonen's music has become more readily accessible though it remains technically challenging. The Violin Concerto is a splendid work that deserves wider exposure and definitely repays repeated hearings. I hope that this magnificent performance will encourage many other violinists to investigate it and pick it up in their repertoire.
Nyx is the Greek goddess of night. She is also the mother of sleep and death, as well as of the sensual pleasures, dreams and day. I draw this piece of information from the accompanying insert notes. One might thus think that the work is a Nocturne but Nyx turns out to be a symphonic poem reflecting the various attributes of the Greek goddess. The work opens with a horn quartet that immediately suggests a nocturnal and ominous mood. The music opens up and proceeds in an almost martial mood soon interrupted by a more ruminative section led by the clarinet. It then moves on through a number of contrasted episodes by turns dreamy, troubled and menacing.
Salonen's music displays remarkable orchestral mastery, no doubt gained from his long experience as a conductor. It has much in common with that of his friends and colleagues whom I mentioned earlier. It is certainly not easy to play but is eminently accessible, often quite beautiful and strongly expressive.
As might be expected these performances are superb and the recording does full justice to the music's wide dynamic range. This is thus a self commending release were it not for its shamefully short playing time of little under fifty minutes for a full price disc.
Hubert Culot
A splendid release of two recent and substantial works.

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