American Concertos

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Baiba Skride (violin)
Gothenburg Symphony & Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
cond. Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orfeo C 932182A (58’43 & 58’38)

This is a release from the end of last year, which somehow eluded me but is well worth recommending. I cannot do better than quote from the back of the wrapround case that it is “In the grand tradition of the best film music: three great violin concertos – demandingly virtuosic, ravishingly orchestrated, imaginative and immediately accessible and rising above the sterile debate about ‘light’ and ‘serious’ music.”

Baiba Skride comes from a musical family in Riga, the capital of Latvia. I have seen her perform live and she is a wonderful violinist, who has worked with umpteen of the world’s great orchestras and deserves to be better known in the UK.

The first item featured is Leonard Bernstein’s 1954 Serenade. Christoph Schlüren’s very readable booklet notes describe it as one of the most idiosyncratic and indeed erratic concertos ever written. I wrote recently about Erich Wolfgang Korngold in my review of John Wilson’s splendid album of his work. He started on a violin concerto in 1937 but lost heart and set it aside for eight years. It did not get premiered until 10 years after he had begun it. He uses motifs from some of his film music throughout.

Miklós Rózsa (1907-95), who later was to pick-up three movie Oscars – for Spellbound, A Double Life and Ben-Hur – wrote his violin concerto when he was aged 21, but held it back as a failure. 25 years later, encouraged (as Korngold had been) by the master violinist Jascha Heifitz, he resumed work on it and the great man performed the premiere in January 1956.

The second disc is completed by another Bernstein work, the 25-minute West Side Story: Symphonic Dances from 1960, which I feel sure does not need further explanation. Although I do feel it is a tad “undercooked”.

Not to be overlooked is the support given by the two orchestras under the baton of the 34-year-old Finnish born Santtu-Matias Rouvali, who earlier this year our Philharmonia Orchestra announced as its next principal conductor, effective from the 2021-22 season, with an initial contract of five years. The playing is enhanced by the excellence of the Orfeo sound recording.

Everyone involved has the measure of this music with what Skride herself describes as its “technical challenges”. I hope readers will enjoy the end product as much as I do.

Peter Burt.

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