American Classics - Zwilich: Violin Concerto, Rituals

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Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 1998 Violin Concerto is a marvelous work that communicates immediately to the heart, yet at the same time stimulates the intellect. It begins with an excited shimmer in the orchestra's high register, introducing the violin's arching, wide-interval theme. The serene, ecstatic character of the violin writing is reminiscent of Szymanowski, though throughout the score there also are hints of Prokofiev and Bartók. That said, this is undeniably Zwilich's music, and the fact that this work is a product of our neo-romantic, post-minimalist era is evident in the two shattering orchestral crescendos that frame the first movement. The second movement is based on Bach's Chaconne in D minor, here expanded and augmented by modern harmonies and jazzy ornamentations. Jazz also figures strongly in the finale where, like Bernstein before her, Zwilich seamlessly incorporates its stylistic elements into the orchestral fabric. None of this poses any problem for Pamela Frank, who gives a masterful and passionate performance of the entire work, handsomely accompanied by Michael Stern and the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Rituals (2002) is a celebration of percussion as used in various world cultures, and is so different a work from the violin concerto that it hardly sounds from the pen of the same composer. Nevertheless, it's a total delight, from the opening Invocations, with its stunning pageantry of bells, gongs, and cymbals, to the dancing Ambulation, to the electrifying Contests, where groups of percussionists engage in a thrilling musical combat, set against an orchestral backdrop of increasingly alarming freight-train chords. Under Michael Stern's leadership, NEXUS/IRIS Chamber Orchestra members play magnificently as they build to a frenzied, exhilarating conclusion. Naxos' recording reproduces all of this with satisfying presence and impact, although the Concerto, which was taped live for broadcast, has noticeably less warmth and depth. The bottom line: This is one highly enjoyable disc, enthusiastically recommended!

--Victor Carr Jr,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559268

  • UPC: 636943926826

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

  • Conductor: Michael Stern

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Iris Chamber Orchestra, Nexus (Ensemble), Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Pamela Frank


  1. Concerto for Violin

    Composer: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

    Ensemble: Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Performer: Pamela Frank (Violin)

    Conductor: Michael Stern

  2. Rituals

    Composer: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

    Ensemble: Iris Chamber Orchestra, Nexus (Ensemble)

    Conductor: Michael Stern