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Nikolaus FHEODOROFF (1931-2011)
Concerto for violin, string orchestra and timpani (1994) [28:38]
Mikhail KOLLONTAY (b.1952)
Concerto for violin and orchestra 'Blue Ray', Op. 61 (2011/12) [34:22]
Elena Denisova (violin)
Collegium Musicum Carinthia/Alexei Kornienko (Fheodoroff)
RTV Orchestra Moscow/Alexei Kornienko (Kollontay)
rec. 1995, Spittal/Drau, ORF Landesstudio  Kärnten/Austria (Fheodoroff);
2013, DZZ Moscow (Kollontay)
TYXART TXA17093 [62:20]

The booklet cover heralds Volume 1 ‘XX1 (century) violin concertos’. The two composers will be unfamiliar names to most. Nikolaus Fheodoroff was an Austrian composer, conductor pianist and sound engineer. From 1949-1953 he studied composition and music theory with Felix Petyrek and Alfred Uhl, conducting with Hans Swarowsky and organ with Alois Forer in Vienna. Mikhail Kollontay is a Russian composer and pianist. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1971. Elena Denisova is an alumna of the Moscow Conservatory, whose teachers included Oleg kagan. She has a special interest in new and unusual repertoire, so she's seated firmly in her comfort zone here. Added to this she possesses a phenomenal technique, a prerequisite for these two works. Thirteen years separates the two recordings, with the Fheodoroff recorded in 1995 and the Kollontay performance dating from 2013. Although the orchestras differ in each case, Alexei Kornienko directs both.

Of the two concertos, the Fheodoroff is more accessible and tonally based. It was written especially for Denisova and Kornienko in 1994.  The orchestration is colourful and wildly imaginative. The timpani writing is particularly striking, and it asserts its presence from the off. Much stamina is called for from the soloist, who is kept busy throughout. The work is in three movements, where a central Adagio is bookended by a lengthy opening movement and a brief finale. The first movement has a short cadenza towards the end, accompanied by timpani. It's the Adagio which is the emotional heart of the work. Denisova’s ravishing tone and expressive lyricism project a landscape of aching beauty. The movement contains a more animated section, which provides some welcome contrast. The Vivace finale is spirited with some thrilling timpani salvos. There's a brief section in the middle where some diaphanous scoring adds a touch of luminosity to the canvas.

Mikhail Kollontay's Violin Concerto was written 2011/12 and carries the title 'Blue Ray'. This more compositionally advanced, avant-garde score is a much harder nut to crack. A sustained note ushers in the lengthy first movement. The violin presents as a lonely figure in a stark, friendless terrain. Harsh dissonances portray an atmosphere of nervousness, anxiety and tension. The effect is both spellbinding and unnerving. The technical challenges for the soloist are immense, and Denisova acquits herself admirably, her fearless approach paying rich dividends. A rhythmically energetic second movement follows, but the music still retains a palpable unease and perturbation. Only in the finale is there a lessening of tension, with the depiction of the sufistic story of the Rose and the Nightingale central to the narrative.

I discovered that Elena Denisova has recorded Kollontay's Six Biblical Sonatas Op. 28 for violin and organ, which is available on the Kontrapunkt label. On the back of this recording I’d certainly be keen to seek this out.

Although the two concertos are challenging, especially the Kollontay, those with an adventurous spirit will find much to stir interest. Denisova benefits from the inspirational support of Alexei Kornienko, who achieves impressive results from his players. Orchestral versus violin balance is ideal in both performances. The engineers have also secured a wide dynamic range. My only quibble relates to the accompanying booklet. I would welcome some detailed biographical facts about the composers featured.

I eagerly look forward to Volume 2.

Stephen Greenbank



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