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The Violin Concerto is at one and the same time George Rochberg' most widely performed and least known work, since it was heavily cut in the "Stern version" played and recorded in the 1970s. Here, restored to the composer' wishes, the score' primaeval vis
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Lyndon-Gee's notes detail his preparation for this recording. He had spoken with a former student of Rochberg's who told him that the composer had been anguished at the time the cuts were made. Lyndon-Gee contacted the composer and proposed to record the original version; 'Rochberg reacted as if a long-lost friend had turned up from prisoner-of-war camp ... hardly daring to believe in the possibility.' It turned out there was only one surviving copy of the original and that resided at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland to which Rochberg had given it. Lyndon-Gee examined it, made proposals to Rochberg about what to include in this recording and Rochberg told him to put all the excisions back in. Here is a comparison of the timings of the Stern recording vs. the present performance:
The basic tempi in the two performances are similar, so you can see that a total of about 14 minutes were cut (primarily from movements IV and V) when Stern made his recording. There are major organizational differences, too. For instance, in Stern movements I and V begin with the same material. Not so with Skaerved. Also, in the Stern version there had been some simplifications of the solo violin part (e.g. quadruple stops), even with some of the soloist's lines being written into the orchestral texture.
This is a major late 20th-century violin concerto, written in Rochberg's big-hearted late-Romantic style tempered by his astringent harmonies and Bartókian formal procedures. From the unaccompanied violin's anguished opening of the Introduction, through the cleverly-handled passacaglia-like theme (C# C / B A# / A G#) with its boozy circle-of-fifths harmonies in the first Intermezzo, the violin's searching in the Fantasia, the magical harmonies and dramatic thrust of the lengthy Second Intermezzo, and the autumnal finality of the Epilogue this concerto carries us along on a journey of seeking, discovery, understanding and wisdom.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved is a violinist previously unknown to me; he is a Briton, the first violinist of the Kreutzer Quartet. On the basis of this performance I would judge that he is a true musician who also possesses technique to spare. I understand he has recorded Rochberg's solo violin masterpiece, the Caprice Variations, and I know that I will have to seek that out. Lyndon-Gee and his Alsatian orchestra give outstanding support.
This is, in my opinion, a major release for which I am exceedingly grateful. Hats off to Naxos for undertaking to restore to us the complete Rochberg Concerto in such a fine performance as this.
This CD of Rochberg's violin concerto captures the gut-wrenching passion of Rochberg's "hard romanticism". He composed the work in 1975 and it was championed by Issac Stern. But Stern also induced the composer to make cuts in the work, and it was generally performed in the shortened version. In preparation for this recording, and with the full enthusiasm and cooperation of the composer, conductor Christopher Lyndon-Gee discovered Rochberg's initial score for the violin concerto and restored it, in collaboration with Rochberg. The original version of the work appears on this disk with Lyndon-Gee conducting the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra with Peter Sheppard Skaerved playing the demanding violin solo. The CD is part of Naxos' American classics series and is the third album in that endeavor devoted to Rochberg's music. Lyndon-Gee also conducted a performance of Rochberg's fifth symphony in the series.
The violin concerto is a passionate, visceral work which makes great demands on the soloist, orchestra and listener. The work is full of sharp contrasts and conflicts with the soloist pitted against the forces of the orchestra and with jagged, angular, and anguished music juxtaposed against sections of lyricism and peace. The work too is formally divided into two parts, the first of which consists of three movements and the second of which consists of the final two lengthy movements. In this, the original version, the work is of unsusual length for a violin concerto, running almost 52 minutes.
The work opens with an introduction for the violin in double and triple stops. In the movement tough discordant passages alternate with slower more lyrical sections.
In the second movement, "Intermezzo A" the music quickly works up to a frenetic, seized theme in the violin which works to a huge climax in the orchestra before the soloist returns in a long plaintive theme, followed by a return of the initial frenzy.
The third movement, "Fantasia" follows without pause by building on a long held note. There is a moving opening theme in the violin followed by a slow, dark, and ominous passage in the orchestra. There is a great deal of tension between the soloist and the ensemble as the violin pleads against the full orchestra of strings, brass, winds, and percussion.
The lengthy fourth movement, "Intermezzo" moves slowly through a variety of moods and tempos. It opens slowly, picks up with moment of pleading in the violin, and includes scherzo and march-like passages as it proceeds. It is a difficult collage of a movement.
The finale, titled "Epilogue" begings with a sighing loud theme in the orchestra, after which the violin enters in the lower register. The orchestral theme plays a large part in the movement while the soloist moves gradually but inexorably to the higher reaches of the instrument and ultimately brings the work to a quiet, ineffable close.
This concerto manages to be tough, passionate, and heart-rending at once. It is a major work of Twentieth Century American music.
The listener wanting to celebrate and explore the work of George Rochberg could well start here.