Menotti on Chandos

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto
Muero porque no muero
Oh llama de amor viva
The Death of Orpheus

Jennifer Koh (violin)
Julia Melinek (soprano)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor)
Stephen Roberts (baritone)
Spoleto Festival Choir
Spoleto Festival Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2002

Gian Carlo Menotti’s music is based on melody. His Violin Concerto is one of the most beautiful works in the repertoire; I am amazed that it is not better known. I am only aware of a previous recording of it by Ruggiero Ricci. Although Ricci is a very sympathetic interpreter, he does not enjoy Jennifer Koh’s technical facility on this new recording, sensitively conducted by Richard Hickox.

Menotti (born 1911) composed his Violin Concerto in 1952 for Efrem Zimbalist (the father of ’junior’, the actor closely associated with a long-running FBI drama-series). It’s a sun-drenched work full of enticing rhythms and long, beautiful melodies, not least the one from 2㤷” in the first movement. Menotti distils colours from the orchestra that suggest Mediterranean warmth. The slow movement is especially heartfelt and nostalgic, and the finale is energetic and playful. Jennifer Koh plays this delightful concerto with obvious affection.

The three short cantatas (the longest is twelve minutes) reveal Menotti’s theatrical instincts. Each is beautifully melodic and vividly characterised. The two setting Spanish texts have melodious traits of that country; the first is ecstatic, the second begins with harmonic clashes and then becomes devotional, the baritone soloist carrying the burden of the text. The pagan beginning of The Death of Orpheus reveals Menotti as a composer of rhythmic and colouristic guile before again exploring long, singing lines this time centred around Orpheus’s magical powers, the music enchanted in its atmosphere.

The solo singing though has disappointing aspects – Stephen Roberts has a noticeable ’beat’ to his voice and both Julia Melinek and Jamie MacDougall sound strained at times – but the performances are committed. The Violin Concerto is the main attraction.

The acoustic of Spoleto’s Teatro Nuovo is ideal for Menotti’s music – he is the co-founder of the Spoleto Festival – which relies on emotion and detail to make its full effect. All the soloists are realistically balanced and the smallest orchestral details are revealed with pinpoint clarity. The overall sound is sensuous while the expert balance allows genuine musical interaction between soloists and orchestra, especially important in the concerto.

This notable CD will appeal to listeners who are primarily attracted by melody, colour and music with an expressive heart.

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