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Vernon DUKE (1903-1969)
Complete Works for Violin
Violin Concerto (1940-41) [30:10]
Sonata in D for violin and piano (1948-49) [18:24]
Etude for violin and bassoon (1961) [3:28]
Hommage to Offenbach (1957) [9:31]
Capriccio Méxicano (1939) [5:29]
Elmira Darvarova (violin)
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Scott Dunn
Scott Dunn (piano); Kim Laskowski (bassoon)
rec. 2014, ORF Funkhaus, Vienna (Concerto); 2012, Edith Memorial Chapel, Lawrenceville School, New Jersey (others)

The fact that Minsk-born Vernon Duke's living was made in the USA as an emigré active in the field of musicals, films and popular music does not detract from his concert music. There are three symphonies (1928, 1933, 1946) as well as the Cello Concerto and Piano Concerto, the latter two recorded by Naxos. The present disc complements that CD by adding the Violin Concerto premiered by Ruth Posselt whose ex-radio recordings of the concertos by Barber and Hill are now firmly lodged in the catalogue, courtesy of West Hill. In 2000 Chandos celebrated Duke's ballet Zéphyr et Flore which he wrote under his original Russian name of Vladimir Dukelsky. There is another ballet Le Bal de Blanchisseuses (1940s) and an oratorio The End of St Petersburg (1938). His concert music was for some years favoured by Koussevitsky in Boston. Other big names associated themselves with Duke's music, including Roman Totenberg, Israel Baker and Jascha Heifetz. Duke died in Santa Monica, California in 1969.

The three-movement Violin Concerto - a work of saturated romance - is constantly in intense song. A lovingly rounded central Valse movement reaches out to embrace the listener - initially through pizzicato. Its dreamily mercurial ways move flightily between the tropics of Barber, Benjamin and Korngold. The finale is a work of chattering insistence in which Duke revels although his poignant lyricism also puts in a movingly nostalgic appearance at 3:14. Elmira Darvarova is a class act and is kept busy both in terms of technique and emotional content.

Seven years after the Concerto came the Violin Sonata which is also in three movements. Darvarova, a pupil of Szeryng, Neaman and Gingold, is again centre-stage. The violin's persistent cantabile occupies itself with gentle though intense poetry rather than with spectacle. A graceful and dancing Brillante e tumultuoso finale is determined and ends with a defiant flourish. The diminutive Etude for the odd couple of violin and bassoon is eerily playful. The Hommage to Offenbach (violin and piano), again across three parts, makes play with Duke's halting little ideas. There's a non-assertive modesty about his writing which melds with his Tin-pan-alley inclinations in the final America Rediscovered. The Capriccio Méxicano is for violin and piano. Its showy huskiness and tendency for slow-motion harmonic skids would make it a contrasting companion to Copland's El Salón México. During a visit to Mexico in 1960 Duke met the composers Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. All the recordings are close and not short on an impact that is up-close and personal.

We must now hope that Dunn will be able to enlist a record label to record and issue the Duke-Diaghilev trilogy (The End of Saint Petersburg; Epitaph for Diaghilev and Dedicaces) which he triumphantly premiered in St Petersburg in 2011.

For the present disc Urlicht Audiovisual lay on a good booklet note by Kay Duke Ingalls (Duke's widow) and Scott Dunn. It sets the scene and also provides details around each of the five works. Kim Laskowski, and especially kingpin Scott Dunn, keep the faith with Elmira Darvarova and everyone stays faithful to Duke and warmly affectionate towards his starlit music.

Rob Barnett



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