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Francisco COLL (b. 1985)
Violin Concerto (2019) [27:27]
Hidd’n Blue, Op. 6 (2009-11) [4:44]
Mural for large orchestra (2013-15) [24:25]
Four Iberian Miniatures for violin and chamber orchestra (2014) [13:07]
Aqua Cinerea, Op. 1 (2005/2019) [10:30]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Gustavo Gimeno
rec. 2019/20, Philharmonie Luxembourg, 2019 and 2020
PENTATONE SACD PTC5186951 [80:57]

Francisco Coll is a rising star as a composer. There are now several recordings out of his music. This latest one is particularly formidable with the Violin Concerto conceived for Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Four Iberian Miniatures equally suited to her extroverted style of playing. These are the highlights of the disc in my opinion, though the five-movement Mural is also a major work. It was at the end of 2016 when Kopatchinskaja and Gustavo Gimeno traveled to Valencia, Spain where they met up with Coll, who was there to spend time with his family. He had left his home in Spain ten years earlier and now resides in Lucerne, Switzerland. In a note in the SACD booklet, Coll states that his “development as a composer could not be understood without the presence” of Kopatchinskaja, Gimeno, and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Thus, one can view this new recording as authoritative.

The earliest works on this very full disc, Aqua Cinerea and Hidd’n Blue, betray the influence of Coll’s mentor, Thomas Adès, but also display characteristics of his own personality. Hidd’n Blue, a short overture, is indicative of the influence of painting on Coll’s work. He often does a painting at the time of his composing. The otherwise attractive booklet would have been improved if some of this artwork had been displayed there. As it is, there are three separate notes in English, German, and French by three different authors. Jesús Castañer (as translated from Spanish by Natalie Shea) describes the contradictions between the “attraction towards instability, extremes and the union of opposing or conflicting elements” in Coll’s compositions. He refers to Hidd’n Blue as “schizophrenic.” With its high winds and strings, contrasting drums and other low percussion, I find it reminiscent of Adès’s music. While the loud versus soft sonorities are captivating, the whole piece has a disquiet about it. The music does not really “end,” but merely stops.

Coll’s very first work, Aqua Cinerea, which he designated as Opus 1, is more or less in the same vein. He was all of nineteen when he composed it, similar to Shostakovich’s age when he wrote his first symphony. Aqua Cinerea is a tone poem containing both drama and lyricism. Coll utilizes the full orchestra creatively. An example is the oboe solo accompanied by contrabassoon midway through the piece. Towards the end it becomes rather violent by the percussion, including timpani and bells, and loud brass and winds before concluding quietly and eerily with repeated harp notes accompanying a sustained chord.

The most substantial score, following the composition of these works, is Mural. Cast in five movements, it has been described as “symphonic” in the way it employs the large orchestra. As Castañer points out, it was presented as a “grotesque symphony” when it was performed at the BBC Proms. I find it more of a “concerto for orchestra” in the way it employs the orchestra. Coll takes traditional material from the past and subsumes it in his own voice with “obsessive rhythms, scrap-metal percussion and other elements of pop culture, among many caricatures and hidden jokes,” according to Castañer. Having listened to it several times, I did not find any of these references in the least obvious, except perhaps the conclusion of the second, scherzo-like movement that parodies the ending of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The colourful orchestration includes gamelan sounds and other percussion, brass fanfares, horn and oboe solos, and contrabassoon growling at the bottom of the orchestra. Coll juxtaposes fast and slow movements, but one can describe only the second movement as really lively and with humour. The other movements contain much variety of tempos and moods from quiet and somber to loud and dissonant. The last movement is the longest and is slow and mysterious. It can be rather static before building to forceful climaxes, reminding me of the moving of tectonic plates. It ends quietly on long, sustained chords before dying away. Mural is an impressive work, but one that takes more than a few hearings to fully absorb.

The compositions for violin, on the other hand, grab one from the get-go, especially the Four Iberian Miniatures. I would suggest anyone coming to Coll’s music for the first time begin with these delightful pieces. The infectious Spanish dances of these miniatures utilize the full resources of the smaller orchestra, but with a large percussion section including crotales, roto-toms, guiro, slide whistles, piano and others. The first movement begins as a jota, leading to a fandango and flamenco clapping. The violinist plays pizzicato as much as bowed scoring in this work and there is much humour here, as the audience has to guess which plunk is the final one! The second movement differs, being slow and meditative, where Kopatchinskaja is allowed to demonstrate her best expressive style. There is a feeling of melancholy, even sadness before the music becomes a habanera with castanets and pizzicato strings. The music then gets louder with even greater emphasis on the Spanish rhythms before ending decisively.

The third dance commences with a piano solo playing arpeggiated figures before the violin enters. Overall, this is a slow movement with not a little darkness. The violin part sounds yearning even when the music becomes livelier. It is the least rhythmic and much a mood piece of all these miniatures. Then the last movement bursts in loudly with slapping violin chords and pizzicatos and incisive, lopsided rhythms. It is more dramatic than elsewhere, evoking a genuine Spanish atmosphere. The work ends resolutely on a loud chord. Four Iberian Miniatures is a stunning introduction to Francisco Coll and lots of fun. Still, it is a serious work and not just some pops piece. I can easily see it becoming a staple of the contemporary violin/orchestra repertoire. Kopatchinskaja and the orchestra perform it to the hilt. It is really suited to her style of violin playing. There is also a video of the work with her playing and conducting the piece on YouTube that is well worth watching, especially for all the percussion effects.

The primary raison d’être for this disc, though, must be the premiere of Coll’s Violin Concerto, possibly his most important work to date. It was the fourth work Coll specifically composed for Kopatchinskaja, the year after his double concerto for violin and cello Les plaisirs illumines. The Violin Concerto is in three movements with subtitles: Atomized, Hyperhymnia, and Phase. Castañer does not indicate the origin of these titles, only to describe the progression of the piece as “explosive fury” of the first movement, “sensuality” of the second, and “unpredictable character” of the finale. His descriptions encapsulate the character of these movements rather well.

The first movement begins wildly with the violin’s pyrotechnic display before things settle down in a more lyrical, Bergian section that is quite moving. The violin plays throughout, but the orchestra provides rich accompaniment as an equal partner. There is much percussion, including bells, and horn and clarinet solo parts. The movement ends with a very high violin and low contrabassoon note. The second movement is slow and expresses contemplation and a feeling of desolation, though there are juxtaposing outbursts in the orchestra. There is a beautiful, extended horn solo two-thirds of the way through before the music becomes agitated, leading to thunderous drums and other percussion. The last two minutes of this, the longest movement—more than double the length of each of the others—concludes with a cadenza that reminds me of the similar use by Ligeti in his Violin Concerto. As in that work, the solo violin’s cadenza leads directly into the finale without a break. The finale contains much variety from virtuosic, wild solo violin and bursts of percussion, to jaunty, dance-like figures contrasting with a warmer, more expressive passage. The concerto ends with a glissando, as if the orchestra were simply winding down.

Though the Violin Concerto can at times seem “all over the place,” it is an assured piece that grabs the listener from beginning to end. Kopatchinskaja’s “role” in the composition of this work is borne out by her dazzling performance and that of the orchestra. I am hopeful that other violinists will take it up, but I doubt that any will supplant Kopatchinskaja soon. While the rest of the programme is definitely worth knowing, the concerto is more than enough justification to acquire this disc. It hardly needs mentioning that the sound is also state-of-the-art, even in the two channels in which I auditioned it.

Leslie Wright

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