KUUSISTO: Leika for Symphony Orchestra, Op. 24. Violin Concerto,
Op. 28. CORIGLIANO: Violin Concerto "The Red Violin."
PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80. Violin Sonata No.
2 in D, Op. 94. Three Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64.
MAHLER-STEIN: Symphony No. 4 in G. DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon
of a Faun
Jaakko Kuusisto (b. 1976), one of Finland's leading composers, also is a respected violinist and conductor—he has several recordings in that capacity for BIS.. He is best known for his opera The Canine Kaleval, premiered in in 2004. Kuusisto obviously is a composer to watch, evidenced by this stunning violin concerto completed in Lahti in March 2012. Superb violinist Elina Váhála, to whom it is dedicated, gave the premiere, and this recording was made the following month. What a treasure it is! It had a rather long gestation period; the composer began working on it more than a dozen years ago. There are three movements, the first opening with a dark cadenza for the. soloist. The second is an elegiac slow movement, the third bursts with energy. Orchestration is rich and imaginative, often with oriental touches, and many of the textures suggest Korngold. The performance is spectacular in every way. Another work by Kuusisto begins the CD, Leika, Op. 24 which began life as a chamber work and later was orchestrated to take advantage of expanded sonorities. In Finnish, Leika means "child's play," but this music is hardly playful. After a boisterous opening a la Candide, a somber mood prevails, soon interrupted by energetic bursts of sound featuring many orchestral solos, but all this soon fades away as this intriguing music fades into nothingness. This CD is filled out with yet another recording of John Corigliano's Red Violin concerto, in a compelling performance. Audio quality is superb throughout, although not particularly "surround." Don't miss this fascinating issue!
Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, born in the Ukraine in 1957, is not as well-known as many of his peers, but he has a distinguished history including encouragement from Isaac Stern and winning the Henryk Szeryng Foundation Career award in 1994. I have yet to hear shis BIS recordings of various concertos including Gulbaidulina's Concerto No. 2 "In tempus praesens," dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter, who recorded it with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. This is a fascinating concerto; its composition is detailed in the remarkable DVD of Mutter working with the composer (REVIEW). This new SACD of the two Prokofiev violin sonatas and three excerpts from Romeo and Juliet (Montagues and Capulets, Dance of the Girls with Lilies, Masks) arranged by G. Drjunes, offers masterful performances, beautifully recorded with fine balance between violin and piano, although SACD processing does not produce anything in the way of "surround" sound.
Mahler's Symphony No. 4 has received well over a hundred recordings, but relatively few in this version for chamber orchestra (14 players) made by Erwin Stein, who was a pupil of Schoenberg. I see no point in hearing this music in this chamber version, no matter how well it is performed. The lush rich sound of strings is essential for this music, and you won't find it here. The disk is filled with another familiar orchestral work in an equally unimpressive version for chamber orchestra, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, an arrangement made by Benno Sachs, who also studied with Schoenberg. Again, this bare-bones approach robs the music of its beauty. Here we encounter Trevor Pinnock in repertory not associated with him but he is as at home here as he is in Baroque repertory. Performances here are superb as is the audio, but this is not the way I wish to experience this music.
R.E.B. (September 2013)