Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 2,
“The American Four Seasons”
Robert McDuffie (vn); Marin Alsop, cond; London PO
ORANGE MOUNTAIN MUSIC 0072 (40:06) Live: London 4/17/2010
Philip Glass, in his own notes to the premiere recording of his Second Violin Concerto, suggests that Robert McDuffie had asked him to write a companion piece to Vivaldi’s popular
(Vivaldi’s concertos have been paired on recordings with versions for violin and orchestra of Piazzolla’s
Cuatro estaciones porteñas
). Accordingly, the concerto falls into four movements, each preceded by a violin solo (Prologue and Songs 1–3). Glass relates that he and McDuffie differ in their understanding of the work and invites listeners to form their own opinions. The recording took place at the European premiere.
The work opens with a spare solo Prologue, which flows without pause into Movement I, a genial, lazily flowing movement that depends very little at first on repetition of motives in the solo part; there’s more hypnotic insistence in the orchestra, and the solo takes this up later. McDuffie creates in this movement (as well as in the Prologue) a generally relaxed atmosphere, though the movement rises to a more urgent climax before it settles down to a quiet ending.
“Song No. 1” flows almost seamlessly from the conclusion of the first movement. Extending its slow repetitive ruminations over 4:16, it leads into what must be the work’s slow movement. Here again, the repetitions don’t wax so chant-like or insistent as those, for example, from the violin solo music of
Einstein on the Beach
, although, as in Movement I, the orchestra engages in them with greater regularity than does the solo.
The brief (1:38) “Song No. 2” introduces more virtuosic—or at least idiomatically violinistic—difficulties and takes advantage of the timbral qualities of the violin’s lower registers as well as the middle and upper ones. Movement III moves more quickly, featuring sweeping double stops toward its end (would violinist and composer agree on their significance?).
“Song No. 3” sounds more like an exotic improvisation, such as the one from the opening of Ravel’s
. The ensuing Movement IV begins with feverish figuration that sets off this exoticism with a twang that’s jazzy both rhythmically and timbrally; the movement unfolds viscerally, revealing the affably magnetic Glass from
and, more recently,
Robert McDuffie, captured by the engineers up close with a minimum of extraneous noise, draws a warm tone, with a sort of low surface tension, from his 1735 Ladenburg Guarneri del Gesù. Will listeners miss the tighter focus of Gidon Kremer’s recording of Glass’s First Concerto (a recording about which the composer reportedly had reservations because of what he considered rhythmic aberrations in the orchestra part)? Even those who do should find compensation in the music’s easy accessibility and wealth of timbral variety, in McDuffie’s performance, for the most part technically secure and always tonally resplendent, and in the orchestra’s enthusiastic forays into the world of hypnosis. But which are the Four Seasons? Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham