Michel van der Aa’s Violin Concerto was written in 2014 for his Dutch compatriot Janine Jansen. An unusually conventional work for this composer, it follows a fast-slow-fast structure, and is his first major work without some pre-recorded or electronic component. Yet this piece is not a drastic departure from his distinct soundworld; rather he uses acoustic means to emulate processed timbre, such as in the climax of the second movement, Jansen is ‘amplified’ by being doubled by first violins. In other places the solo line connects with wind-players to dramatic and sometimes eerie effect without allowing these episodes to interrupt overall continuity.
Jansen begins the first two movements alone, demonstrating a pliable and articulate sound, wild or deeply expressive. She provided a richness of tone in even the thorniest passages, and following the opening bars, the orchestral string players are instructed to use no vibrato, generating something akin to a sine-wave. The three percussionists are spaced antiphonally. Yannick Nézet-Séguin took the Finale as if it were marked ‘as fast as possible’, which allowed the Philadelphia Orchestra to demonstrate incredible virtuosity.
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony is operatic in scope with an abundance of compelling melodies. Nézet-Séguin was at home in the work’s rubato and color, the orchestra responding with passion, grippingly loud without a hint of unwanted harshness. Ricardo Morales’s third-movement clarinet solo was breathtakingly subtle, Jennifer Montone supplied ravishing horn-calls in the Finale (taken at breakneck speed), and the viola section continues to prove it is among the world’s finest.