Weill and Vasks – Violin Concertos

0 of 5 stars

Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, Op.12
Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra (Distant Light)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Anthony Marwood (violin)

Recorded between 7-9 December 2004 in Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: October 2005
Duration: 57 minutes

These two violin concertos make an intriguing, if not necessarily complementary, coupling, the one a pungently sardonic product of 1920s’ Germany, the other part of the wave of music to emerge from the Balkan states in the last twenty years or so. But the juxtaposition of works from two such very different worlds works surprisingly well.

In his Concerto for violin and wind, we find the young Kurt Weill busy absorbing the various influences of Stravinsky, Hindemith, early Schoenberg and his teacher, Busoni, as well as the popular music of the day. The result has a kind of spiky lyricism which Marwood and the Academy capture with needle-sharp articulation. He is harder-edged than Daniel Hope (Nimbus NI 5582) in the dancing, sardonic little pirouettes of the second movement’s ‘Notturno’, partly a matter of Nimbus’s more recessed recording. Marwood’s slightly quicker finale, in Hyperion’s sharper-focussed sound, suggests an acerbic dance, rather than Hope’s haunted, spectral march. Conversely, though, it’s Hope’s English Symphony Orchestra colleagues who just have the edge in terms of snappy vituperativeness in the frenetic last couple of minutes.

The Latvian Pēteris Vasks (born 1946) is quoted in the booklet as saying, “For me, music only exists if it has a spiritual content”. Well, we could argue till the cows come home about what “spiritual content” means and how it manifests itself. There is no doubt, though, that Vasks creates a particularly luminous soundworld, which inescapably calls to mind that of Arvo Pärt, in this 1996-7 concerto written for Gidon Kremer.

Vasks has claimed Lutosławski as an influence. It is true that he occasionally uses the kind of aleatoric techniques pioneered by the Polish composer, with passages of controlled improvisation creating dense, swirling textures. But for me the results have more in common with Alfred Schnittke (the third of the concerto’s three cadenzas and its outcome, especially), if without Schnittke’s bleakly sardonic outlook.

Much of the music moves in long-breathed melodic lines, beautifully sustained by Marwood and his Academy musicians – their concentration in the cantabile second section and the concluding Andante is remarkable. They are light on their feet in the more energised and dance-like middle section, which has moments that may even suggest to some listeners Vaughan Williams in Concerto Accademico mode. The approach to the concerto’s desperate climax is firmly controlled, with Marwood fully in command of the cadenza’s virtuoso challenges, while he and the orchestra realise to perfection the sad radiance that permeates the final movement.

There is more to this music than just a limp ‘spiritual minimalism’, though I’m not sure I’ve got my head around exactly what it is yet.

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