The Violin Concerto (first reviewed on a compilation disc, cross-reference below), while having three distinct movements, can be heard as an organic whole—with one “time out.” The inevitable assimilation of other composers and their styles (a curious snippet from Ravel’s Bolero; passagework—particularly register changes—that can trace their way back to Brahms; a Carl Nielsen touch of snare adds drama) serves to make the “Piacevole” even more accessible. Ondrey Lebr digs into the far-ranging solo line with power and passion that is captivating.
The opening of the “Andante” seems as if the listener walked in on an extremely lyrical statement already in progress. This effect also adds to the marvellously personal feeling of the music; a clock-like accompaniment reinforces the overall despair reminding all how time keeps slipping away.
With its somewhat rhapsodic opening, dazzlingly technical challenges, soloistic frenzy (again, never a problem for Lebr’s considerable left-hand technique and magical bow) over top of a brooding chorale-like slow-motion melodic line, “Cirroscuro” masterfully combines all of these elements while simultaneously reflecting on what has already been heard. Conductor Kirk Trevor is at one with composer’s intentions and brings the concerto to a convincing close. The recording engineers have done such a great job that even a squeaky chair is evident.
With a span of some 34 years (1959-1993) separating these two works (Dialogue for Orchestra and Wind Trio/Diaphony for Orchestra and Wind Trio—both employing flute, clarinet and bassoon) and two different performing organizations and conductors rendering the scores, these two tracks bear repeated hearings on numerous counts. The earlier work has a distinctly David vs. Goliath tone as the winds make their points quietly only to be swamped by the massive waves of sound from conductor Vit Micka and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, producing a massive, rich canvas that is only blemished by the lack of unanimity in the violins as they scale the heights. Yet the soloists have the last word, complete with a tongue-in-cheek V-I from the “clown of the orchestra.” Decades later, the music is decidedly more balanced with the energetic busyness of the band at full cry (Trevor unable to keep his very “present” musicians entirely on the ensemble rails) the perfect foil to the soli whose longer lines ring engagingly true as they unfold. Perhaps Cunningham could be coaxed into the third and deciding movement at some point in the near future.
Wakefield Autumn has a decidedly Brazilian flavour (Villa-Lobos: The Little Train of the Caipira is faithfully utilized in the exotic percussion writing) that would make the uniformed listener hard pressed to guess that the actual subject matter is a hamlet in northern Michigan. Still, the rest of the orchestration is a marvel of colour (the woodwind/horn turmoil menacingly below the broad string melody, the ever-so-subtle use of bass clarinet and muted offbeats) and are aurally delicious. Micka and his charges dig far beneath the surface, collectively crafting some spectacular moments of intensity that are truly gripping.
Despite some creative touches (the austere unison string opening morphing into jazz), Kaleidoscope is too disjointed when compared to the other works. Part of that problem emanates from the podium—Trevor should have sent the violins back to the woodshed for their stratospheric escapades while the bassoon held the lead; the low brass/string ensemble couldn’t find its groove.
Let’s hope a choreographer of equal vision and creativity will take up the challenge of bringing Venus and Adonis to the stage. The richly hued work tells the story of doomed love in a concise, clear manner whose vast soundscape (from solo violin to full-bore orchestration) screams out for the human form to bring the fabled gods to life. We will keep our wings crossed! JWR