Paul PATTERSON (b. 1947)
Violin Concerto No. 2 ‘Serenade,’ (2013) [21:57]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Concerto for violin and small orchestra Op. 12 (1952) [24:10]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Concerto for violin and string orchestra (1953) [21:37]
Claire Howick (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Grant Llewellyn
rec City Halls, Glasgow, 2017
NAXOS 8.573791 [67:44]
There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from composers who, while they may not count as great, are certainly good. That is true of the three we have here, all British, all of whom had or have day jobs as academics, and all of whom wrote violin concertos of a kind which is enjoyable but not barnstorming. They come from three different generations, and are presented in reverse chronological order by birth, though actually Kenneth Leighton’s early work preceded Gordon Jacob’s late one. They all write tuneful and attractive music, with slight modernist tinges, but not so much as to frighten the horses. These are all also premiere recordings.
Paul Patterson had been little more than a name to me, though I had heard his Mass of the Sea, a fine work. His concerto may be called Serenade and be broadly neo-Romantic, but this does not preclude vigorous energy in the first movement, Toccata. This is a cheerful piece with a lyrical second subject; the harp comes to take a prominent role as the movement progresses. The slow movement is titled Barcarolle and features a haunting theme, which is constantly repeated and varied. The finale starts with an introduction, followed by a violin cadenza and then launches into its main material, titled Valse-Scherzo. The waltz sections alternate with the scherzo ones and the general mood is exuberant.
It was the inclusion of Kenneth Leighton which attracted me to this disc: his music is piquant, beautifully crafted and rhythmically alert, like a British equivalent of Frank Martin. His choral music is well-known, his orchestral music less so. Chandos, who had already recorded some of him, started one of their series of his music some years ago and issued two discs under the late Richard Hickox and one under Martyn Brabbins. However, this was some eight years ago and things seem to have ground to a halt, so this issue is particularly welcome. Leighton was the most internationally minded of the three composers here, and you can hear the influence of Bartók and Stravinsky in his work. The first movement is fast, stormy and highly rhythmical. It is followed by a movement titled Intermezzo, which is right because it would be rather short for a full slow movement. The violin broods among the wind instruments. Unusually for a concerto, this is followed by a scherzo, short and fierce, though the mood relaxes in the middle. The final Epilogo has a yearning solo violin line over a pounding bass. This leads to a passage of intense chromatic writing, the most powerful passage in the work, bringing the work to a melancholy ending.
Gordon Jacob’s name was familiar to me because, as a child, I profited from his booklet How to read a score, still happily available. He was a prolific composer and wrote many concertos. This one opens with a rather Hindemithian bustle and energy, though with lyrical passages of a kind Hindemith would never have written. The slow movement is intensely lyrical and expansive, with changes in tempo and a varying accompaniment. The finale is not the kind of bouncy piece you might expect but something more questing and angular. It goes into strange places. I liked this work a lot.
The soloist, Claire Howick, is the dedicatee of Patterson’s concerto so is authoritative in that work. The other two works were both premiered by Frederick Grinke, who was the dedicatee for both of them. Howick plays a 1718 Stradivarius violin known as the ‘Maurin’, which was lent her by the Royal Academy of Music, in London. This was the same instrument which Grinke played for his two premieres. She certainly produces a lustrous tone with it, and I hope the Royal Academy extend the loan so that she can continue playing it. She also offers impeccable intonation and a lot of fire. I really enjoyed her playing. Grant Llewellyn is an enormously versatile conductor; I had known him previously from his superb recording of the second and third symphonies of William Mathias. He does an excellent job with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who play these works, which were surely new to them, as if they were repertory pieces. The recording is admirably clear, with Claire Howick balanced slightly forward. The sleeve note, in English only, is short but comprehensive.
This disc attracted several sponsors, including various parts of the BBC, Creative Scotland, the RVW Trust and the Finzi Trust. They should be well pleased with the results of their support, and I hope they go on to similar ventures. These works may not be world-beaters but they are thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable and the disc deserves every success.
Previous review: Bob Stevenson