Notes and Editorial Reviews
Daniel Barenboim, cond;
Ittai Shapira (vn);
Charles Hazelwood, cond;
BBC Concert O
ALBANY TROY 970 (52:18)
The Israeli-born composer Shulamit Ran (b. 1949) has lived and taught in Chicago for several decades, won the Pulitzer Prize, and been composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony (disclosure—I knew the composer when I was a student in Chicago and took one course of hers, though I didn’t study with her in lesson). Her language early on was in an astringent modernist idiom, but she never adopted the overly cerebral techniques of what’s usually called “Uptown”; while highly sophisticated, her music was distinguished at least as much for its intense drama and emotion. She herself cites the American maverick Ralph Shapey (her colleague at the University of Chicago) as a mentor, but from the outset her work projected a strong individual voice, which has only grown more pronounced—not surprising since she is of another generation than his.
This disc presents two extremely satisfying orchestral works that demonstrate her mastery of the medium.
dates from 1992. In two movements, the piece is luxuriant in its sounds and materials. “Straussian” immediately comes to mind. This does
mean it’s a knockoff of
(that’s more likely to be John Williams). Rather, the aspects that elicit that descriptor are: (1) a brilliant orchestration technique; (2) a rich melodic gift, that spins out arabesques like tendrils of blossoming vines (using modal materials that often derive from Middle Eastern sources); and (3) most important, a capacity to keep the music moving through the precise calibration of gesture, sonority, and texture,
relying on ostinatos or
figures. The music is always advancing dramatically, and one eagerly follows its course, but that momentum comes through the large-scale “breathing” of the orchestra, not its dancing.
The 2002–03 Violin Concerto I found at first a tougher nut to crack. The first movement is discursive, and indeed I felt as though the ghosts of Berg and Stravinsky were battling for its soul. But the remaining two movements are far more clearly characterized, memorable, and affecting. The second is a brutalist scherzo, the soloist’s rough down-bow strokes generating a primal motive that echoes through the orchestra. (The music is most similar in spirit to the sarcasms of Shostakovich.) And the third is a soulful elegy. It gets loud in places, but the overall tone is contemplative, tinged with anguish. The soloist is very much a keening voice throughout.
It’s interesting that I have two ambitious violin concertos on my plate this cycle, the other being George Tsontakis’s. I admire both, but I find Ran’s a little more satisfying, because after the opening movement it settles down and focuses on what it really wants to say, and expresses it clearly, economically, and passionately.
These are great performances, but you’d expect that with the forces at hand. The sound is excellent. Ran is a composer who’s stayed the course, following her own vision, open to the general changes of the aesthetic climate that have allowed the return of “beauty,” but never pandering to easy or cheap pleasures. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin by Shulamit Ran
Ittai Shapira (Violin)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Notes: Composition written: USA (2002 - 2003).
Legends by Shulamit Ran
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Notes: Composition written: USA (1992 - 1993).
Be the first to review this title