Notes and Editorial Reviews
Conrad Chow (vn); Bruce Broughton (pn); Ronald Royer, cond; Sinfonia Toronto
CAMBRIA CD1204 (71:03)
Tryptich. Gold Rush Songs.
Rhapsody. In Memoriam J. S. Bach.
Nocturne in c?
Conrad Chow is a magnificently
talented young violinist who specializes in playing new music. Bruce Broughton’s
Triptych: Three Incongruities
is an interesting suite that opens with a rhythmic dance. The middle movement is a slow, legato melody that has decidedly contemporary harmonies, and the last movement is again fast and rhythmic with a Celtic feel to it. It is easily accessible music and it could be the entry into 21st-century music for a music lover who has previously shunned it. His
Gold Rush Songs
, written for violin and piano, are wordless, but those of us who are familiar with the songs know the story of Joe Bowers and Betsy from Pike. Many will also recognize the final song describing those fabulous “Golden Slippers” that we might wear walking along the streets of Heaven. Broughton is obviously familiar with the old West. His most celebrated film score, for the Lawrence Kasdan 1985 western
, brought him an Oscar nomination. Since then he has composed music for the concert stage, television, and even video games. He knows how to entertain an audience, and proves it on this disc.
Los Angeles-born Ronald Royer first studied cello and played in several orchestras, and like Broughton worked in television and the motion picture industry during the 1980s. A few years later, he began to study composition at the University of Toronto, from which he received his master’s degree in 1997. He is now the music director of Ontario’s Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. The first movement of his Rhapsody for Violin and Chamber Orchestra is aptly marked
. The entire work has an exotic flair. Listening to it, I imagined sailing across the Red Sea in a dhow, perhaps heading for Zanzibar with a cargo of dates. The sea is calm at first, but just as we see the shore in the distance, the wind whips up the waves. In the second movement, both the sea and the seafarers become agitated as the dhow narrowly escapes destruction on the reef before sailing into the harbor. Royer gives us a great vehicle and Chow plays his music with great finesse. It definitely shows off the gorgeous tone colors of his 1933 Gaetano Pollastri violin. I find his
In Memoriam J. S. Bach
somewhat less impressive, but it is still a fine piece of music. I definitely want to hear more from this composer.
The inclusion of the Milstein transcription of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 serves to show that Conrad Chow is equally at home in both traditional and contemporary classical music. Unlike some artists who specialize in modern music, his trills, runs, and scales are perfect in every way. It’s a beautiful piece and it is wonderfully rendered here. With regard to the mechanics of the compact disc itself, the sound is clear, but the violin is definitely out in front of the orchestra. When accompanied by the piano, the violin is more of an equal partner, however.
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In his own premiere CD, violinist Conrad Chow presents first recordings of recent works that all have at least one foot firmly planted in traditional tonality. Film composer Bruce Broughton notes in the booklet that he reworked the Triptych (Three Incongruities) from an earlier version after his marriage to violinist-wife, Belinda, who helped familiarize him with the instrumental resources he’d been seeking to understand. The first movement updates Bach’s approach to the violin, rendering it spikier and more sharply rhythmic, perhaps, but nevertheless preserving the character of the older composer’s melody and rhythm. The second movement provides a similar facelift for Prokofiev, of whose quirky harmonic twists and turns (specifically, it seems, modeled after similar passages in the composer’s First Violin Concerto) he provides a pastiche. The finale, based on the sound of traditional fiddle tunes, if not the fiddle tunes themselves (Broughton identifies them as Scottish in character), exudes intoxicating verve. Chow produces an edgy, occasionally astringent tone from the 1933 Gaetano Pollastri violin upon which he plays (or might that asperity be an artifact of the lean recorded sound?). He adapts with ease to the three different styles the work encompasses: virtuosic in the Bach-like first movement, moody in the Prokofiev-like second, and hypnotic in the fiddle-like finale.
Composer Ronald Royer has rolled all the various styles upon which he draws (he cites Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, and Pablo Sarasate in the booklet) into the much briefer Rhapsody, which, aside from its eclecticism, recalls Miklós Rózsa’s Violin Concerto in its adaptation of Hungarian elements. The violin’s commanding introduction after the brooding opening recalls Ravel’s idiomatic writing at the beginning of Tzigane and stamps the work as a vehicle for showcasing more than a violinist’s technical abilities. Chow plays with great assurance in such passages, rising above the sweeping orchestral accompaniment, lyrically in the first movement and sparklingly in the often motoric second. Royer’s In Memorian J. S. Bach consists of two movements, Sarabande and Capriccio, both adaptations of Bach’s style in a chamber-like setting for violin accompanied by flute, clarinet, bassoon, harpsichord, and string quartet, all players drawn from the Sinfonia Toronto. It’s a verisimilar tribute, etched in melodic patterns close enough to the originals to be taken from them, although the violin explores higher registers as well as the middle ones that predominate in Bach’s works. The following Capriccio struts along in shifting meters but still manages to suggest its model, the movement suggesting at times (except for the brief skyrocketing cadenza) the chameleon-like rhythmic kaleidoscope flashing in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto.
Kevin Lau’s Joy had its origins, according to the composer, in a work for string quartet intended for performance at a wedding. In its reincarnation, he’s broadened its range of expression (as well as its instrumentation). Its soaring cantabile suits the violin—and violinist Chow—like a hand in glove, recalling glowing passages from landmark 19th- and early 20th-century concerted works for violin and orchestra.
Broughton’s set of Gold Rush Songs for violin and piano push further into the realm of instrumental virtuosity and harmonic inventiveness while at the same time incorporating actual songs from the era (“Joe Bowers,” “Betsy from Pike,” “My Darling Clementine,” and “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” as well as, briefly, “O Susanna!”), all appearing in a more complex harmonic idiom than their originals did. Chow brings the program to an affecting ending with an expressive account of Nathan Milstein’s arrangement of Chopin’s popular Nocturne in C?-Minor, a blockbuster performance of a blockbuster encore.
When it’s as difficult as this release makes it to decide whether the performances or the repertoire deserves the higher praise, the recommendation is especially assured. “Strong,” “warm,” or even “urgent” would hardly be out of place.
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Works on This Recording
Incongruities (3) "Triptych" by Bruce Broughton
Conrad Chow (Violin)
Rhapsody by Ronald Royer
Conrad Chow (Violin)
Joy by Kevin Lau
Conrad Chow (Violin)
Gold Rush Songs by Joe Bowers
Conrad Chow (Violin),
Bruce Broughton (Piano)
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