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Robert GROSLOT (b.1951)
Violin Concerto (2010) [22:39]
Concerto for Orchestra (2016) [37:21]
Joanna Kurkowicz (violin)
Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Groslot
rec. 2017, Studio 4, Flagey, Brussels
NAXOS 8.573808 [60:00]

The Belgian composer Robert Groslot may not be all that familiar beyond his homeland but one could hardly say that he is a complete unknown. His name figured as conductor in a wonderful Delage collection on Cyprès as well as being prominent in the large-scale championing of the music of Jacqueline Fontyn. He also appeared as composer in a Harp & Co anthology. The writer of Naxos's liner-note (Tom Janssens) points out that Groslot is a prolific composer with 20 concertos to his credit alongside much else including various other genres of large orchestral works. As a pianist he has some fifty concertos in his repertoire. It is fitting, then, that this disc should offer two concertos from the present decade. For both the composer is also the conductor.

In the single-movement Violin Concerto the solo is played by the dedicatee. Of the two works it is the fresher and the music is easy to assimilate and enjoy. This is helped by the fact that both pieces have been recorded in the same venue. The captured ambience delivers the sense of every detail emerging with great clarity without feeling antiseptic. The orchestration in both works is highly skilled and lucid. There's never a suspicion of the composer hiding a lack of ideas in density of effect. The Violin Concerto is not at all an avant-garde adventure and it will attract those already captivated by the Walton and Barber and by the first violin concertos of Szymanowski and Prokofiev. At its extremes it momentarily resembles the Berg concerto and the Phantasy Concerto by Eugene Goossens. From a de profundis beginning the violin emerges self-possessed. The fully populated orchestra goes through whiplash changes of mood including a Waltonian scherzo (4.27). Fully the equal of Groslot's demands, Kurkowicz is left solo in sultry meditations (6.58) before the instrument finds itself in fairy-tale realms. More than once the music called to mind the ‘Singing ringing tree’ (both the 1950s East German children's serial and the sculpture in the Pennines). At 9.23 the baritonal entry of full orchestral strings was lovingly moulded in the manner of the Barber violin concerto. Time after time this score's Mediterranean ways meld well with the brilliance, pointillism and delicacy of the writing. Groslot appears to be elegantly reminiscing about Edwardian ballrooms at one point (15:46) and then the spell is broken by craggy brass statements (18:25). The Concerto ends with an air of determination and a figure reminiscent of the start of Beethoven's Fifth. It's a most attractive and concentrated work despite its voluptuous ideas flowing in front of the listener in what feels like an instinctive rather than structured progress.

By contrast the longer four-movement Concerto for Orchestra is less telling; this despite Groslot's trademark clarity of orchestration and absence of thick impasto. The Exordium (I) opens with a tentative wind figure after which ideas rush in and tumble over each other. The movement ends in small hints and wisps, concluding in a whispered sigh. The Hoketus (II) sports a bustle of ideas that might have been inspired by similarly awkward work: Walton's Second Symphony. The Nachtmusik (III) is a waif-like creature, exploring tenderness and despair. I could not fit Tom Janssens' description "evokes the impression of pleasant serenades or ‘nocturnal’ sound …. earthy, lively and emotionally charged" to what I heard. The Conclusion (IV) is an exercise in thunderous flamboyance - declaring a true Concerto for Orchestra but not one that tempts a return visit, unlike the impressive, indeed magical, Violin Concerto.

Rob Barnett



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