Friday, April 24, 2020

Glass and Stravinsky Violin Concertos on Sony

courtesy of Jensen Artists

COVID-19 seems to be taking a toll on the release of new recordings. A case in point of particular interest is a Sony Classical album of two violin concertos from different eras in the twentieth century. The earlier of these is Igor Stravinsky’s only violin concerto, composed in the key of D major. Completed in 1931, the piece is frequently presented as a model of his so-called “neoclassical” period, even if the primary influence comes from the baroque period. This selection contrasts with Philip Glass’ first violin concerto, first performed in 1987. The piece was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra for soloist Paul Zukofsky; and, as its Wikipedia page observes, it was the composer’s “first full-scale venture into non-theatrical orchestral composing.”

On the new Sony recording the violin soloist is Zürich native David Nebel, working with the Estonian conductor Kristjan Järvi. The Glass concerto is performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the ensemble for the Stravinsky is the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. The album was originally scheduled for release at the beginning of this month. Currently, my best source for when it will actually be available is Barnes & Noble Booksellers (of course, of course), whose Web page is currently taking pre-orders with availability planned for one week from today, May 1. Somewhat to my surprise, I have not yet encountered a digital download site.

It is worth noting that each of these concertos has its own approach to reflecting on the pre-classical past. All of the movement forms of the Stravinsky concerto can be found in baroque sources: toccata, aria (used in two consecutive movements), and capriccio. The middle of the three movements of the Glass concerto, on the other hand, is basically a chaconne.

What may be more interesting is the attention that both composers gave to repetition. However, while “repetitive structures” have served as a foundation for Glass’ approaches to composition, Stravinsky was more interested in eccentricities arising from slight departures from strict repetition. That technique can be found at least as early as the music he composed for the crowd scenes in the ballet “Petrushka;” and the attentive listener will have no trouble encountering it throughout the three movements of his concerto.

As a result, this new album has the relatively unique quality of offering two compositions that can be appreciated for both similarities and differences. Nebel is particularly impressive through his capacity to bring expressiveness to the techniques of both composers without ever letting his personal expressions override those of the composers themselves. Given how much each composer packed into his approach to writing a concerto, this album is likely to hold up through frequent listening experiences.

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