American Concertos / Skride, Rouvali, Gothenburg Symphony, Tampere Philharmonic
“America, you are better off” – wrote Goethe in 1827, weary of German Romanticism and the “fruitless wrangling” of sterile debates. A century later, the New World experienced an unprecedented wave of migration consisting of leading figures, largely Jewish, from the cultural and intellectual spheres of German and Austrian life. The composers among them were attracted by the rich rewards that seemed to be on offer from the new world of sound film in Hollywood, but few were able to reap those rewards to the full: among those few, who were able to make their way in a competitive marketplace through pragmatism and perseverance, were Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rozsa – both regularly nominated for Oscars and frequently successful. While making a living from this genre of “music drama”, each of them –whether or not they were recognized by the classical music business – sought to push the limits of the traditional formats and were remarkably successful in doing so. Taking a phone call, Rozsa could scarcely believe that the legendary virtuoso really was seriously interested in his Violin Concerto and was ready to give the work its premiere – but so he did in 1956, and the first recording of the work, with its extreme technical challenges, was also made by Heifetz. And it had been just the same with the Violin Concerto by Korngold, Rozsa’s senior by ten years: the 1947 premiere and the brilliant first recording of this twentieth-century classic again showcased Heifetz as soloist. In the new generation of genuinely American musicians, one outstanding figure was Leonard Bernstein, an all-rounder whose early success led on to even greater heights: here too, one can hardly ignore his contribution to film music, even if it amounts to one single film. Bernstein rated his Violin Concerto of 1954, “Serenade”, inspired by Plato’s Symposium, as his best work ever, and this work too in its imaginatively slimmed-down scoring for string orchestra, harp and percussion is now acknowledged to be an important 20th-century concerto for violin. As an “encore”, this compilation includes the masterly Symphonic Dances from the immortal “West Side Story”, which has long risen above the “fruitless wrangling” over “light” and “serious” music.
This is a most enjoyable collection. This set of American concertos sees her widen her recorded repertoire still further and her performances of all three are highly successful. She’s very well supported by the young Finnish conductor, Santtu-Matias Rouvali who here appears with the two orchestras of which he’s currently Music Director. The Gothenburg Symphony does the honours on the first disc while disc two features the Tampere Philharmonic. Both orchestras make first rate contributions. The Orfeo recordings are excellent, presenting the performances in clear, detailed sound that has the soloist nicely balanced and yet allows plenty of orchestral detail to come through. Christoph Schlüren’s notes are very useful.
– MusicWeb International
Baiba Skride has been recording large swathes of the concerto repertory in relatively short order, travelling both along and off the beaten path. This programme of American music puts her versatility in sharp relief. Let’s start with the earliest work, Korngold’s luscious Concerto in D (1946), written for Jascha Heifetz. Skride has real feeling for the music’s extravagant yearning and she conveys it without ever slipping into cloying sentimentality—no small feat in this temptingly sweet score.
Miklós Rózsa’s Concerto (1953), also composed for Heifetz, is much more of a rarity—and understandably so. The orchestration is attractively lush, the language vaguely and pleasantly evocative of Bartók, but there’s a lot of meandering, too. Heifetz, in his pioneering recording, helped sustain tension by keeping things moving; Skride opts to observe Rózsa’s tempo markings more thoughtfully. Skride is persuasive in her own way, however, particularly as she plays it with such beautiful, singing tone.
The Serenade (1954) is among Bernstein’s most perfect, concise creations and Skride really digs into it. Note how she starts the introductory solo so simply and sincerely, then gradually increases the intensity in her tone as the string orchestra joins her. It’s absolutely gripping as well as plain gorgeous, her glistening tone reflecting the glitter of percussion.
Release Date: September 21, 2018
Catalog Number: ORF-C932182A
Number of Discs: 2
Period: 20th Century
Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Leonard Bernstein, Miklós Rózsa
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orchestra/Ensemble: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
Performer: Baiba Skride