William Thomas McKinley’s Viola Concerto No. 2 is well served by having violist Karen Dreyfus engagingly devour the deeply personal, technically complex solo part and Jerzy Swoboda conducting the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra with near-perfect authority.
The Andante ma no troppo immediately signals the quest ahead: reaching upward, searching inward—activities which permeate the entire work. Early on, Dreyfus demonstrates her mastery of thrust and parry, understanding when to soar or when to step back and accompany the orchestra. Although subjective, the viola—particularly in the many pizzicato sections—is a touch too present and her colleagues somewhat distant to completely intertwine the composer’s lines, colours and ranges.
Dreyfus manages the “escape” into the cadenza with aplomb, rendering it with surety and moments of scintillating skill and style. As wonderful as that is, its generous length seems somewhat disproportionate to the rest of the movement.
The Vivo—beginning life as a frantic Perpetuum mobile—is purposely unsettling as the protagonist must run for her life. The tension and anguish are palpable before everyone disappears—vampire like—into the night.
The marvellous colour of mighty chimes and high French horns (albeit somewhat forced at the top of their range) establishes the epic feel of the concluding Molto maestoso. Once again orchestra and soloist change roles at will before McKinley deftly paints the way to the second cadenza with pedals that can’t help but recall “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Here the extended pizzicato sequence is the perfect balance to its solo surroundings. Brief hints of hope through fleeting consonance and bare unisons foreshadow a resolution that never truly arrives. The struggle resumes before slipping away into a dark, reedy cave to begin the process of reflecting on the fantastic musical journey that begs more questions than it answers.
The two works by Patrik Bishay that complete the disc are worlds apart from McKinley’s galaxyt.
The program for Frameworks X (an aural depiction of class struggle as broadcast on TV) adds little to the understanding of the soundscape even while the grumpy brass (conservatives: some of whose trumpet members crack up more than intended), chattering woodwinds and trade union strings (so tiresome are their natterings, their extended meeting appears to drive everyone else to the pub) are overpowered in many ways by the rich (piano and percussion). What’s a Green Party supporter to do? Perhaps the goes-both-ways, soothing harp might be recast as verdant conciliator.
The apparent metamorphosis within Sinfonie No. 2 seems to be the gradual transition from very short snippets of sound to much longer segments. The main ingredient is silence—nothing wrong with that as witness Haydn’s mastery of making something into nothing. However, it comes in such copious amounts, many listeners will be left with a continuous feeling of “Is it over or is Bishay unsure of how to get from A to B?” Conductor Vit Micka does a valiant job of fulfilling the composer’s intentions; the principal oboe’s contributions in the symphony are sublime. JWR