Ernest Bloch. Violin Concerto
Benjamin Lees. Violin Concerto
Elmar Oliveira, Violin; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
cond. John McLaughlin Williams.
Artek AR-0042-2. 2008. TT: 65:36
Benjamin Lees, in a brief program note to this 1958 concerto, says
that Georges Antheil taught him the importance of a strong slow movement
for the success of a composition. Here he offers us two movements 'slow
and lyrical in character,' with the third movement 'fiery and explosive.'
In repeated hearings over two months I have been struggling to come to
terms with those 'lyrical' movements and what they might convey to me
expressively. Generally when music is spoken of as lyrical I tend to
think it is idyllic. This music is surely not that, although there are
certainly some beautiful passages. The New Harvard Dictionary of music
defines 'lyric' as 'melodious,' which is not all that helpful. What
works better for me is to think of 'lyrical' as meaning 'songful,' keeping
in mind that songs can express the most complete range of feelings. What
I have finally decided is that, as far as I am concerned, this concerto
is elegiac. If I think of it that way, this musically and emotionally
complex music, seeming to express varied moods, from reassuring comfort
to troubled, agitated and impassioned angst, comes together meaningfully
More objectively, the music ranges from the gently lovely to the
vigorously angular, with the orchestral part carrying the brunt of
the latter. The solo line is typically in strong juxaposition to the
'accompaniment.' Otherwise put, there is quite a lot of counterpoint,
with an interesting orchestral part of significant musical importance.
For instance, the second movement, after a woodwind beginning and repeated
trills from the violin has growls from the bass reinforced by drumbeats
and then trumpets. Later the violin plays over the horns and some quite
beautiful music for, I think, muted trumpet. Near the beautiful quiet
ending of the movement there is some gorgeous low flute melody. In
the finale there is much staccato and a very assertive violin part.
Lees sounds like himself although, as in his first Piano Concerto, which
I reviewed at http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/p/pie00010a.php,
occasionally there is a moment reminiscent of Prokofiev. Conceivably
one might even be reminded of the mood of Britten's Violin Concerto.
Recently here, I reviewed Zina Schiff's recording on Naxos of the
Bloch Violin Concerto, with comparisons to other performances, at
http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/n/nxs57757a.php and around
the same time Steve Schwartz wrote at length from a different perspective
on that recording, so I am not inclined to discuss Oliveira's recording
in detail. I have not had second thoughts about what I wrote then
and I still find Schiff's reading the most exciting and rhapsodic.
Oliveira's seems more restrained, especially at the beginning, though
it is an excellent performance, as one would expect from this fine
violinist, and some passages are compelling. I will say that the
recording is excellent, better than the one on Naxos. I do not recall
other recordings on the Artek label, but they clearly have some very
Recommended for both pieces and highly recommended for the Lees.
Copyright 2008 by R. James Tobin
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery. For more information,
go to: http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html