October 13, 2022


Vivaldi: Concerti per violino X (“Intorno a Pisendel”), RV 225, 226, 237, 314, 340, and 369.  Le Concert de la Loge conducted by Julien Chauvin. Naïve. $16.99.

Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2; Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Violin Concerto in A, Op. 5; José White Lafitte: Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Romance in G for Violin and Orchestra. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Encore Chamber Orchestra of the CYSO conducted by Daniel Hege, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Jonathon Heyward. Cedille. $16.

Kevin Raftery: String Quartet No. 2, “Serioso”; Cook from Frozen; Dimitte nobis; Musica Fermata; Three English Poems; Elegy upon Elegy. Marmen Quartet (Johannes Marmen and Ricky Gore, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; Steffan Morris, cello); Clare Hammond, piano; EXAUDI; Berkeley Ensemble. Métier. $18.99.

     The long-running and highly ambitious Vivaldi Edition on Naïve never seems to run out of clever ways to group and present the music of Vivaldi from the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin. The latest release in the series, No. 69, is the tenth volume in the sub-series of violin concertos – the form of music for which Vivaldi is best-known today. The reason for this particular grouping of concertos is intriguing: “Intorno a Pisendel” means “around Pisendel,” the reference being to Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), an excellent violinist in his time and both a friend of Vivaldi and his pupil. Vivaldi rewarded the Pisendel relationship by dedicating five sonatas and six or seven concertos to Pisendel – but the CD includes only three of the concertos for which Pisendel was dedicatee (RV 237, 314 and 340). The reason is that Pisendel, in his role in Vivaldi’s life, copied many Vivaldi compositions and brought them to Dresden, where Pisendel became Konzertmeister at the Dresden Court Chapel – and these copied manuscripts became the basis of a collection of Vivaldi works in Dresden that remains to this day. The other three concertos on this CD (RV 225, 226 and 369) are ones that Pisendel copied and are therefore among the foundational works of the Dresden Vivaldi catalogue. In truth, the provenance of all six of these concertos is of far more interest to music scholars and the academic world than it will be to casual listeners, or even the not-so-casual ones who appear to be the main target listenership for the ongoing and seemingly never-ending Vivaldi Edition. What will matter to the audience for this disc is simply how the music sounds and how it is played – and on that score (so to speak), listeners will not be at all disappointed. Le Concert de la Loge, as directed by violin soloist Julien Chauvin, has a firm grasp of period style, a clear appreciation of the contrasts built into Vivaldi’s many violin concertos as a hallmark of his style, and an interest in approaching each work as an individuated piece, not merely one of an admittedly lengthy series. RV 225, in D, has a celebratory feel in its outer movements. RV 226, also in D, has an especially attractive use of pizzicato elements in its slow movement. RV 237, in D minor, is decidedly crepuscular in tone throughout. RV 314, in G, has an attractive fanfare-like opening and, again, pizzicato material used to good effect in the slow movement. RV 340, in A, has a darker mood than its home key would indicate. And RV 369, in B-flat, has a stop-and-start character in both its first and second movements, followed by a gently pastoral finale. Whatever the rationale for collecting these specific concertos onto a single disc, the fact is that all the music sounds excellent and is played with the sensitivity and historically informed techniques that are characteristic of the Vivaldi Edition CDs. The series is an ongoing pleasure on all levels.

     As virtuosic as Vivaldi was as a violinist (sometimes controversially so), the approach he took to violin concertos did not long survive him: already in the mid-18th century, composers were using the violin in different ways. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), born four years after Vivaldi’s death, treats the violin with a different sense of emotional connection and a kind of proto-Romantic warmth in his A major concerto from 1775, which opens a new Cedille CD featuring Rachel Barton Pine. As was to become increasingly common in violin concertos, this one by Bologne has most of its weight in the first movement, which is followed by a pleasant Largo that would actually not be much out of place in Vivaldi’s oeuvre, and then a brief concluding Rondeau that brightens the atmosphere considerably. Several generations later, in 1864, José White Lafitte (1836-1918) produced a strongly Romantic concerto in F-sharp minor – scarcely a common key – and again put the focus on the first movement, which is longer than the other two combined. The emotional warmth of the second movement and the wide leaps and fast finger work required in the third mark this pleasant concerto as a virtuoso showpiece. Still later, in 1899, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) created a pleasant and not-very-showy Romance that speaks the same musical language as Lafitte’s concerto but uses it differently, creating and sustaining a rather dreamy mood spun out of long phrases and persistent lyricism. These three works, in which Pine is joined by the Encore Chamber Orchestra of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, are re-releases that originally appeared in 1997, and they are most welcome to have available again: none of the pieces is particularly well-known, and if none has a highly distinctive style, all are filled with nicely produced musical touches and even occasional elegance. The CD also includes a new recording, in which Pine plays with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Jonathon Heyward. This is the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Florence Price (1887-1953), a single-movement work composed near the end of Price’s life, in 1952, and lasting not much longer than the Coleridge-Taylor Romance. But the sensibilities of the Price work, although noticeably similar to those of Coleridge-Taylor in some ways, are also much more concerto-like: the single movement contains multiple contrasts amid enough thematic interconnection to make the totality a unified whole. The work certainly has virtuoso elements, but it also shows considerable compositional flair, as for instance when the apparently peaceful close is suddenly upended by the return of material from the work’s opening. Pine plays all these pieces with engagement and understanding, and the very fine orchestral accompaniment throughout results in top-notch readings of works that, while not exceptionally innovative, are uniformly well-wrought and show considerable understanding of the communicative capabilities of the violin.

     Born two years before price’s death, in 1951, Kevin Raftery is one of many contemporary composers for whom the violin continues to hold considerable interest. But as a new Métier CD of Raftery’s works shows, those interests extend in many directions beyond the violin and may include it as just one element of expressiveness to be explored. Thus, Raftery’s String Quartet No. 2, “Serioso,” although written for the traditional quartet grouping, frequently sets individual instruments (including both violins) against each other, and uses techniques often employed in the past, such as pizzicato, as significant building blocks of material rather than as special effects. Musica Fermata is also strings-focused – it is for two violins – but its concern is mainly with long-held notes rather than with the more pointillist approach of the “Serioso” quartet. The remaining works on this disc showcase other aspects of Raftery’s interests. Cook from Frozen, for solo piano, uses some of the “holding pattern” approach found in Musica Fermata but contrasts it with abrupt interjections of various kinds. Dimitte nobis and Three English Poems are choral works: the first shows Raftery’s ability to adapt old-fashioned churchlike sounds to an age of dissonance and atonality; the second, surprisingly for anyone anticipating more-folklike settings emphasizing verbal clarity, has a sound very similar to that of Dimitte nobis in the first and third poems (“Ribblesdale” and “From Prison”), and only offers a more-clarified vocal approach in the second (“Unhaunted Desert”). This multifaceted (+++) CD concludes with Elegy upon Elegy, an ensemble piece in which the chamber-size Berkeley Ensemble balances string and woodwind components skillfully, although the music itself is less than convincing: it is well-designed in terms of usage of the various instruments, but rather pointless in its meandering structure and lack of apparent desire to communicate anything in particular. This is one of those CDs that will appeal mostly to listeners who already have a strong interest in how today’s composers think about and rethink various instruments (including the voice) and traditional forms, and would like to hear one particular creator’s approach to multiple kinds of communication.

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