With Brahms’ mighty double concerto (whose middle movement remains one of the most emotion laden essays of all time) as the classic baseline, how marvellous it is to have three 21st century “doubles” on the same disc, performed by the very protagonists with which they were initially brought to concert life.
Without doubt, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson are at the top of their form, but the married couple also brings a shared intimacy to the performances that is palpable and compelling from the first measure. Their long association with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra makes it the ideal ensemble to paint the backdrops and underscore these affairs of the heart: broken, found and lost.
Richard Danielpour’s A Child’s Reliquary is a musical receptacle that overflows with subtle insights and deep reflections in a “childscape” that honours those too-young souls whose lives ended even before they began.
The first line sets the mood and tone as the violin’s ethereal harmonics combine with the more earth-bound cello, creating a heavenly image for the ages. Many of the quasi chorale interventions—infused with moments of languishing searches for “the reason why”—are structurally punctuated by orchestral touches of cadential hope. Just a moment of full-cry anguish is permitted—replete with Brahms pizzicati, adding to the overall power and underpinning references to the master’s own “lullaby”—before dreamy counterpoint brings the mood quietly back to bitter reality.
Scampering joy and playfulness are the hallmarks of Vivace e leggiero where conductor Sarah Hicks leads her boisterous, excitable ensemble to near-perfect attacks (notably in the nickel-short-of-razor-sharp inner voices). Prokofiev’s orchestration comes into play, deftly setting up the Waltz-of-Innocence contrast, beautifully introduced by oboist Nancy Dimock in a wonderful echo of the Russian’s double-reed “interruption” in the Fifth Symphony. Laredo and Robinson are nothing short of spectacular as they zestfully engage in a round of Catch-me-if-you-can, temporarily erasing any feelings of grief. Danielpour masterfully employs just one threatening moment and brief shadow following the recurrence of the “Waltz.” After a full-blooded reminder of the “undauntable” spirit of West Side Story, the music winds up with affirming, dry consonance.
The soloists immediately intertwine, taking on their personas as parents in the closing Adagietto. It falls to the piano to aurally signal the depths of despair, even as—once more—counterpoint rekindles the quest for understanding replete with a 4-3 suspension that is childlike simplicity itself. Bars and bars of warm, loving segments pave the way for Robinson’s exquisite rendering of a long melodic line. Laredo effortlessly sneaks in from above and soon the pair meld as one and the stratospheric harmonics look upward again. Tellingly, Danielpour recalls the first movement’s cadential commentary but shades it with less confidence; the piano tolls another time and—finally—a few seconds of rage are allowed into the mix. The dual/duo cry of parental desolation miraculously leads to its accompaniment finding new life. Brahms has the last melodic breath as the truly awful journey closes with some comfort given here and taken away in memory.
Without David Ludwig’s program note, listeners may be hard pressed to come up with “Eros” as the seed behind the first “Con moto” of his contribution to this set. The movement begins with a compelling sense of adventure as Hicks maintains an excellent flow and carefully balances the disparate components before an exciting “frantico” propels the soloists into heady action. The hunt is on, it seems, yet there are more moments of teasing and coquettishness than vrai hot passion—not to mention lust. Curiously, the unison lines have a very “Kronos” hue and feel akin to their Caravan album (cross-reference below). Peggy Frieland’s searing piccolo is enticingly effective as a siren call, but it’s answered by bickering bridge bits rather than carnal heat or angst. Still, the dollops of chaos will delight any speaker arrangement.
The first “Interlude” reveals yet again how totally in control Laredo is of his instrument, burning through the technical challenges even as Ludwig inventively brings real wood onto the canvas.
The incredible tonal and emotional aura of the “Adagio” is superbly delivered by the artists and magnificently captured by producer/engineer Adam Abeshouse. There’s much more unabashed desire spilling across these measures than anywhere else in the work.
Iseult as cello adds an intriguing gender bending quality to the narrative, would the likes of Yo-Yo Ma delve into his feminine side if portraying the doomed lover? Robinson positively devours the second “Interlude,” which is so effectively glued to the loving adieu which preceded. A wonderful touch—mostly likely unintended—of Ivesian Americana makes a brief return and seems very much at home.
The finale is a festive romp of jazzy, colourful fun, with the all-encompassing pair playing precocious cat and mouse with the greatest of understanding and ease. Big drums effectively set up The Great Gate of Humanity finish, compelling the string duo to once again burst into frame for one last hurrah even as the tolling church bells leave little doubt that—at least for now—all is right in the cosmos again.
Daron Aric Hagen’s Masquerade is quite literally the ideal summation of the disc. His mastery of orchestration is immediately evident, but it’s his ability to plumb the depths of subtle feelings that lifts the music steadily into ears and hearts. In the “Burlesque” Laredo and Robinson are once more compellingly comfortable in each other’s skin. The aura of romance is further underscored as the oboe intertwines with the trilling, delirious couple before a sudden silence begins the descent from rapture to rupture.
Heralded by unforgiving tympani, anyone who has felt the pang of love lost will empathize with every bit of “Elegy.” Conductor Troy Peters effectively harnesses the massive, purposely overwhelming force of the orchestra then delivers precision “snaps” as the soloists turn to triplets for solace only to find a gripping sadness in their troubled oneness. They reach higher still until a gentle pizzicato nudges them into the night…
Although the shortest movement in length, “The Last of Pedrolino” has the biggest impact. Hagen marvellously skirts bland melodrama in the opening, setting up Laredo for an incredibly haunting song that will linger long in memory. The music expands into a grand climax that begs for cinematic treatment as the dying Pedrolino tries to make amends.
“Galoppade” is filled with a bounty of positive aspects, bringing hope to all who have tasted or rekindled the downside of risking love in any of the previous tracks. “Once more with feeling,” says it all. JWR