Poems and Rhapsodies
TO BE RELEASED LATE 2020
NATIONAL SYMPHONY OF UKRAINE
American Rhapsody – Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
The Lark Ascending – Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Poème symphonique – Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
La Muse et le poète – Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Carpathian Rhapsody – Myroslav Skoryk (b. 1938-2020)
Poem – Anatol Kos-Anatolsky (1909-1983)
Ever since the emergence of the orchestra as a distinct medium in the late seventeenth century, the violin has been enormously attractive to composers wishing to combine a solo instrument with the ensemble. It quickly became the favorite featured instrument as the solo concerto developed in the early 1700s, most famously in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and its popularity in this genre, and in more modest Romantic offshoots such as the romance and the rhapsody, has continued up until the present day. Versatility — of articulation, tone, and dramatic character — has surely been the key: from soaring lyrically above the orchestra to driving propulsive rhythms, the ability of the violin to perform multiple musical roles continues to dazzle. Its suitability for evoking the natural and the elemental, whether the human voice, birdsong, or tempestuous winds, or supernatural entities both angelic and diabolic, has also proved irresistible to composers. And as the concerto genre took on a more overtly dramatic character in the nineteenth century, pitting the individual against the collective, the stage picture of the violinist, standing alone, wielding only a slender bow and a small, fragile instrument, was somehow more daring and provocative than that of the solo pianist, seated firmly in front of a solid and increasingly imposing piece of musical machinery. It is perhaps no accident that the first and most iconic musical virtuoso to capture the Romantic imagination was a violinist, Nicolò Paganini, or that he trailed rumors of pacts with the Devil, long associated with the violin and its predecessors.
While most of the works featured on this recording are more benignly lyrical than devilish, there are definite hints of the latter in Skoryk’s Carpathian Rhapsody (2004). Ukrainian composer, musicologist, and pedagogue Myroslav Skoryk (b. 1938) has been a leading figure in his country’s musical life for several decades, and has mentored many of its younger luminaries. He has written a wide range of music across many different genres, including nine violin concertos, and after founding an early style shaped strongly by folk elements, particularly Hutsul traditions from the Carpathian Mountains, went on to incorporate jazz and other popular music into his work. After an impassioned opening invocation, the colorful Carpathian Rhapsody throws itself into a dance-based central section; this gradually accelerates to a state of wild abandon, full of syncopations and fierce pizzicati, before a coda in which the slower music of the opening is brought together with the dance rhythms.
The music of Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956), in his own words, ‘communicates emotions with clearly articulated gestures that can be understood on first hearing’, and continues to be inspired by ‘the optimistic vigor and stylistic elements of the mid–twentieth century American Symphonic School’. Indeed, although Fuchs, Professor of Composition at the University of Connecticut, has written extensively for the voice and the stage, as well as for various chamber groups, it is as a master of modern orchestral writing that he has become best known in recent years, particularly through five albums recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, the latest of which won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium. American Rhapsody, Romance for Violin and Orchestra, was composed in 2008. It germinated from an older seed, however, in the opening of the second movement of the composer’s 1993 composition Where Have You Been? (String Quartet no. 2), a work inspired by the collages of American artist Robert Motherwell. Here Fuchs develops a sonorous harmonic complex from the earlier work into a rapt and extended contemplation, the underlying glow first shimmering in the orchestra, then flaring into ecstasy in the violin cadenzas, suggesting, perhaps, some spacious landscape animated and eventually transfigured by changing light.
Landscape is definitely evoked in The Lark Ascending, also subtitled Romance for Violin and Orchestra, by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Written originally in 1914, the work was revised after World War I – in which Vaughan Williams served – and finally premiered in this form in 1921 (a version for violin and piano was performed in 1920). Now a staple of the repertoire, it regularly comes high up in polls of radio listeners asked about their favorite pieces of classical music. The work takes its title from a poem by Victorian writer George Meredith. The Eurasian Skylark found across Europe is famous for the song of the male bird, a uniquely complex and flowing effusion performed – unusually — while in flight (though now, sadly, rarely heard in Britain, after a catastrophic decline in songbird populations of all kinds in recent decades). Meredith is mesmerized as much by the bird’s flight as its song, both conveyed in imagery of water and fluidity; he also evokes the lark’s traditional role as a mediator between heaven and earth, and its significance for humans whose lives are tied to the land. As a passionate advocate of English folksong and the English landscape, Vaughan Williams was bound to be drawn to Meredith’s poem. Yet his musical response is no aimless rhapsody. Alternating violin cadenzas with more regularly structured orchestral passages, including a central section redolent of folksong, the work seamlessly expands its simple melodic materials into a subtle exploration of modal melody and harmony.
After starting life as a lawyer, Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) was emerging as a major figure in French music when his life was tragically cut short by a cycling accident. His celebrated Poème for violin and orchestra, Op. 25, completed in 1896, is evidence of that promise, and of the composer’s distinctive voice, shaped by the influence of Massenet, Franck and Wagner, but increasingly personal in tone (not least in a particular kind of melancholy). His interests ranged widely across the arts, and the Poème appears to have been suggested in part by the novella Le Chant de l’amour triomphant by the Russian writer Turgenev; Chausson originally gave his work this title, but then distanced himself from any programmatic associations, opting instead for Poème Symphonique and then finally just Poème. He had been asked for a concerto by the great Belgian violinist Eugéne Ysaÿe, and despite finding this assignment too daunting, produced an impressive and wide-ranging work that is challenging enough for the soloist to suggest a one-movement concerto. It certainly contains several lengthy cadenzas, including elaborate double-stoppings (probably suggested by Ysaÿe), and moves through a range of tempi and moods, all tied together by thematic transformation. The opening ‘Lento e misterioso’ eventually reaches a central allegro, before returning to the slow tempo in which the work began, but with the lugubrious minor tonality of the opening now transformed at the last moment into a radiant major.
The vast output of Chausson’s older French contemporary Camille Saint-Saëns (1835- 1921) includes three violin concertos and two cello concertos. He brings the two instruments together as soloists in La Muse et le poète (1910), but now as conversation partners rather than competing virtuosi. This is hardly surprising given that the work began life as a piano trio, and thus as chamber music rather than a concertante orchestral piece. Another complication is that the poetic title did not come from Saint- Saëns, but was added by his publisher as a marketing ploy, much to the composer’s dismay. That said, the idea of characters in a drama is not unhelpful in appreciating the relatively free-flowing and spontaneous character of the way in which the work unfolds, moving through a series of episodes by turn tender, playful, and heroic.
Like Myroslav Skoryk, but from an earlier generation of Ukrainian musicians, composer and educator Anatol Kos-Anatolsky (1909-1983) was a leading figure in his country’s musical life. He taught for over thirty years at the Lviv Conservatory, and produced a large body of works, including operas, ballets, choral works, chamber music, two piano concertos, and two violin concertos. His Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D minor was composed in 2008. It germinated from an older seed, however, in the opening of the second movement of the composer’s 1993 composition Where Have You Been? (String Quartet no. 2), a work inspired by the collages of American artist Robert Motherwell. Here Fuchs develops a sonorous harmonic complex from the earlier work into a rapt and extended contemplation, the underlying glow first shimmering in the orchestra, then flaring into ecstasy in the violin cadenzas, suggesting, perhaps, some spacious landscape animated and eventually transfigured by changing light.
Copyright Alain Frogley
Haydn and Hummel Concertos
“Haydn and Hummel Concertos” recorded with pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi and the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, Theodore Kuchar, conductor, features Haydn Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in F major, Hob. XVIII:6 and Hummel Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra in G major, Op. 17. This Album demonstrates the rich possibilities afforded by the double concerto. (Centaur, rel. April 17, 2020)
Mendelssohn Concertos was released on November 1, 2019 by Brilliant Classics.
The violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv performs two rarely-heard gems by Felix Mendelssohn: the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings (1822), and the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (1823). Joining Solomiya for the double concerto is the award-winning pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and both works feature the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, Theodore Kuchar conducting. (Brilliant Classics, rel. November 1, 2019)
Ukraine – Journey to Freedom A Century of Classical Music for Violin and Piano
Romanticism, Expressionism, the New Folklorism and Postmodernism in Ukranian violin and piano music performed by Solomiya Ivakhiv in her debut recording on Labor Records, distributed by NAXOS of America.
Poems and Rhapsodies
To be released late 2020
“Poems and Rhapsodies” includes American Rhapsody by Grammy-award winning composer Kenneth Fuchs, The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Poème symphonique by Ernest Chausson, La Muse et le poète by Camille Saint-Saëns, Carpathian Rhapsody by Myroslav Skoryk, and Poeme by Anatol Kos-Anatolsky. Dr. Ivakhiv is joined by award winning cellist Sophie Shao and the National Symphony of Ukraine, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko. (Centaur, rel. late 2020)