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Dip Your Ears, No. 91

available at Amazon
Corigliano, "Red Violin" Concerto, Violin Sonata, Bell, Denk / Alsop / Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

I don’t particularly adore Joshua Bell’s sweet, emotionally equivocal violin playing, nor was I entirely enamored of John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” Concerto when I attended the concert at which this performance was taped. But even with all caveats, this recording is well worth anyone’s ear who isn’t afraid of tonal contemporary music.

Starting over a gentle solo violin section quickly supported by flittering strings, occasionally soft woodwinds, the concerto allows the violinist to meander about before he is interrupted by martial interjections, orchestral whip-lash, and cacophonous rumbles. Out of the ruins of this rises the movement anew, led by a solitary, optimistic clarinet. At the live performance there were moments when Bell disappeared behind the orchestra that suggested balance problems, rather than composer’s intent.

Sure enough the mixing table - or takes from the two subsequent performances in June 2006 - fixed most of that and the four movement concerto comes across as much improved as a result.

The nervous second movement (Pianissimo Scherzo) with enthusiastically gentle percussion participation, sounds like music that desperately wished to bark but was kept on too short a leash. The Andante Flautando is broad and rich to which the BSO responds with a very pleasing, sonorous sound. It might be best described as giving the impression of several Zbigniew Preisner scores being strung together, but that's not a damning point at all, since Preisner wrote some really good film music. But the film music origins of Corigliano's concerto certainly become obvious here.

I won’t say that I have changed my mind about the Philip Glass, John Adams, or Daniel Brewbaker violin concertos doing more for me, but I’m very glad to have Corigliano’s work now for repeat listening - and well balanced, too, from which it benefits handsomely.

Also included is the Sonata for Violin and Piano which I already liked in performances of Elmar Oliveira with Robert Koenig (Artek AR00352) and Maria Bachmann with Jon Klibonoff (BMG/RCA 64298), but am equally to happy to hear from Bell and Jeremy Denk (who, of course, is actually famous for his blog).

From April 17th through the 19th Marin Alsop and the BSO present a program featuring two works by John Corigliano - "To Music" and his Piano Concerto. The second half of the program is another chapter in Alsop's 2007/2008 Beethoven cycle and tackles the "Eroica" Symphony.

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