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Jonathan LESHNOFF (b.1973)
Symphony No. 4 Heichalos (2017) [21:07]
Guitar Concerto (2013) [25:04]
Starburst (2010) [7:58]
Jason Vieaux (guitar)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Giancarlo Guerrero
rec. 2016/18, Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, USA
NAXOS 8.559809 [54:46]

American composer Jonathan Leshnoff sets out his stall in no uncertain way with his Symphony No. 4. The music blitzes along with components suggesting familiarity with John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, William Schuman and Elmer Bernstein. He does not set out to be difficult. The work was written for the Violins of Hope, a collection of restored instruments that survived the Holocaust; you are not aware of their presence. The notes assert that “The composer draws inspiration from an ancient Jewish mystical text, Heichalos, to explore spiritual and ethical questions at the heart of the Jewish experience.” This score forges its own free path avoiding simplistic semitic DNA and not sounding like Bloch in his Avodath Hakodesh Violin Concerto, Schelomo or Voice in the Wilderness. It is in two movements. The first is dynamic and pummels in much the same way as Philip Glass’s Second Symphony. The second delights in serenity. The benediction of bells is borne leisurely on high by the strings somewhat in the manner of Barber’s Adagio and Howard Hanson’s Sixth Symphony. The music ends gently - half murmur, half heartbeat.

The three-movement Guitar Concerto is bejewelled and does not seek to distance itself from Rodrigo; quite the contrary. It’s played by Jason Vieaux with the breathless concentration of an adept. The recording appears to pick up every nuance and effervescent ascent and descent. There’s a lot going on in this work - none of it recalcitrant. Starburst - a firework of a calling-card - looks in its brilliance of detail and dazzle of texture to the example of Walton but mixed again with Hanson. There’s also another kinship and it’s with Michael Daugherty who has also been championed by Guerrero and Naxos in Nashville.

Leshnoff was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey and studied at Johns Hopkins, the Peabody and the University of Maryland. His music has found a ready home on CD with Naxos (two other orchestral discs and a chamber one). While there is no sign of the Third Symphony as yet, the First has been done by Naxos and the Second by ASO Media in Atlanta. Brian Wilson has already written in warm terms about the Cello Concerto. There are ten concertos and four oratorios so far and further Naxos instalments would come as no surprise.

Rob Barnett

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