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Tsontakis: Violin Concerto No 1, Mirologhia, October / Miller, Lin, Currie, Albany So

Release Date: 10/28/2008 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7680   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Tsontakis
Performer:  Eleni CalenosColin CurrieLin Cho-Liang
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TSONTAKIS Mirologhia. 1 October. Violin Concerto 2 David Alan Miller, cond; Colin Currie (perc); 1 Eleni Calenos (sop); 1 Cho-Liang Lin (vn); 2 Albany SO KOCH 7680 (69:46)

Describing a living composer’s art can be a Read more tough assignment, particularly when the subject is a moving target like George Tsontakis. I’ve only recently become acquainted with his music, and his new disc with the Albany Symphony has given me enough material to be able to describe aspects of his style without nailing it down precisely, primarily because that goal may be unattainable. No matter—I like most of what I hear so far, and ultimately this is all that really matters. Two of his preoccupations seem to be color and register, and the exploitation of a wide spectrum of contrasts that can be set up in these two areas.

Color comes to the fore early on in Mirologhia , most strikingly when he uses the Schoenbergian principal of Klangfarbenmelodie to change the color via instrumentation of a single sustained pitch. The brilliant, edgy colors of Messiaen also seem to have influenced his palette in the first and subsequent movements, as does that composer’s preoccupation with birdsong. He eschews traditional tonality, but there still seem to be tonal centers in many of these movements, especially during the motivic repetitions first heard as a prominent feature of the second movement. He also tinkers with minimalist textures, primarily in their capacity as accompanying material. These spiky motives and the churning accompaniment recur in subsequent movements, acting as effective binding agents. While I understand Tsontakis’s dislike of the word “concerto” as it applies to his music, there are nevertheless dualities between soloist and orchestra that suggest the traditional sparring that is a key feature of the form. In addition, he uses what sounds like standard cadenzas, including the strikingly vivid solo percussion passages that occur between the third and fourth movement of Mirologhia . There is a program that informs the work, a fact that could remain under the surface were it not for a vocal component involving both members of the orchestra (singing chants and hymns) and a soprano soloist (Eleni Calenos) who grieves for the loss of her husband. Soloist Colin Currie demonstrates an impressive mastery of a dizzying array of percussion instruments.

The composer states in his notes that his aim in the Violin Concerto is to create an “introspective ‘anti-hero’” as an antidote to the showy virtuosity that characterizes most concertos in the standard canon. He isn’t the first composer to try to change the inherited dynamic, but he succeeds better than most in finding a workable substitute. In doing so, he doesn’t eliminate the soloist/orchestra conversation, but rather reworks the nature of the dialogue. The first composer to reexamine the form was Alban Berg, also in his Violin Concerto, and this work seems to be a model of sorts for Tsontakis. Concerto norms aren’t entirely abandoned, as the rapid-fire finale clearly demonstrates. Soloist Cho-Liang Lin is in his element, and he easily vanquishes every challenge tossed his way. His soulful reading shows a genuine connection with the score, though a wobble in his vibrato can sometimes be distracting.

October is a two-movement paean to autumn, modeled after a poem penned by the composer. He takes his cues here from earlier models, most notably Bruckner and Tchaikovsky, yet the references are never so overt as to subtract from Tsontakis’s own voice.

Special kudos to the engineers for producing a recording of such sterling clarity and tonal accuracy. It didn’t hurt that they had at their disposal a crown jewel of acoustics, the Troy Music Hall in upstate New York. Even warmer congratulations to an orchestra and conductor who are committed as few American organizations are to music of our time, and perform this music with a level of polish that should be the envy of ensembles from much larger cities. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

Mirologhia by George Tsontakis
Performer:  Eleni Calenos (Soprano), Colin Currie (Percussion)
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001 
October by George Tsontakis
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Concerto for Violin no 1 by George Tsontakis
Performer:  Lin Cho-Liang (Violin)
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1998).
Composition revised: USA (2002). 

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