AARON JAY KERNIS (b.1960): Violin Concerto (Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot), JAMES NEWTON HOWARD (b.1951): Violin Concerto (Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Cristian Măcelaru), BRAMWELL TOVEY (b.1953): Stream of Limelight for Violin and Piano (Andrew Armstrong [piano]).
Catalogue Number: 10U071
Label: Onyx Classics
Description: Two splendid new violin concerti, big and bold and guaranteed to please anybody who (correctly) believes that there's no such thing as too much Romantic music (see also 02T067 for more of this). The Kernis is a contemporary take on the Romantic virtuoso vehicle par excellence (all three works on the disc were written for the present soloist, aptly described by Kernis as 'a fire-breathing (young) master at the instrument. Kernis' first movement is, loosely, a chaconne, the opening melody and chords underpinning the whole movement, which in typical Romantic fashion carries the bulk of the concerto's drama. Like all the best examples of the genre, the movement's 'variations' pass through many moods, progressively following a trajectory toward a powerful climax. In recognition of the Baroque origin of the form, one variation features Baroque violin figuration, a typical example of Kernis' musical wit. The movement finally cycles around to a powerful restatement of the opening material. The slow movement begins impressionistically, warm and languid, with plenty of Debussy in the mix. A raucous, jazz-inflected climax intrudes, leading to an agitated central section with a dissonant big band climax, after which the soloist reasserts decorum with an impassioned cadenza, and the movement ends mysteriously. The finale is an eclectic firework display, with echoes of Bernstein, neoclassical Stravinsky and jazz. It culminates in a blistering cadenza (you can hear an admiring gasp from the audience in this live recording, one of only two times you're aware of their presence) and a humorous romp to a wild finish. Howard's hugely successful career is of course primarily based on his scores for a succession of high-profile films. This fine neo-romantic concerto plainly draws on the film composer's art in coming up with a memorable theme and then finding a series of interesting things to do with it. The first movement does exactly this, its big dramatic climaxes sounding as though they wandered in from the score for some Hollywood blockbuster, and the movement has a most appealing combination of energy and lyricism. The tender slow movement is based on a snippet of melody that was sung over and over by the infant daughter of the former conductor of the Pacific Symphony, who tragically drowned at 18 months. The rousing finale takes us back into Hollywood epic territory with a folk-inflected theme put through its paces in imposing big sky country. Tovey's rhapsodic piece, with its association of stage drama in the spotlight, fits right in as a kind of encore.