John Adams: Violin Concerto
John Corgliano: Chaconne from The Red Violin
George Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody #1 arr. Franz Waxman
Franz Waxman: Tristan & Isolde Fantasia
John Adams: Violin Concerto
Chloe Hanslip, Violin
Charles Owen, Piano
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin
There is no doubt in my mind that technically this is an excellent record. In terms of performance, it is an outstanding success and no denying. My problem is whether the presentation as a whole is at all worthwhile.
Firstly, I have to say the packaging is singularly unattractive. The main cover picture is of the star performer sat cross-leggged on a stool as illustrated above. She looks most awkward and uncomfortable not least because it seems she may just have received a flea-bite behind the ear. The closer upper torso shot you get if you have the special package with cardboard wrap [just what is the purpose of these things?] is even more puzzling - the poor woman looks even more uncomfortable and thoroughly dicomfitted by the situation, not at all happy or at all aware that she is supposed to be offering the observer some enticement to come on in and sample the contents.
But that's just for starters. My main beef is the programming - the juxtaposition of the compositions contained herein. They do not in any way seem to fit together comfortably. In fact, the moods and styles of the pieces seem to differ so thoroughly that as a listener I was left feeling totally at sea and somewhat seasick. I'm serious, this is the second time listening to this disc has left me feeling quite nauseous - something music rarely does to me.
It is obvious from the cover text that the main selling point is, quite rightly, supposed to be the Adams Violin Concerto. It's certainly the thing that persuaded me to listen to this disc first rather than any of the others that it came parcelled up with! I have to say you have to wade through rather a lot of treacle before getting to the meat of this offering! And I find Waxman's work very heavily sweetened indeed! I think I have commented before on Naxos's apparent obsession with filling all the available space on a disc, so as not to short change the record-buyer. This is an admirable concept in most cases but if it means compromising the integrity of the reord then I think they should consider ditching the quantity in favour of overall quality. Why can't we have 'EPs' of classical music?
Having arrived at the Adams' piece, one is hardly in the state of mind to give proper attention to what is really quite a difficult 15 minute first movement. Happily, one does soon settle down and starts to realise one is listening to a fine piece of music. At this point I would suggest it's advisable to restart the track and listen again this time with a rather less disorientated brain!
As I have said, it is quite a difficult piece as it is not clear what the prevailing mood is; perhaps it is completely devoid of emotion in fact. Either way, it requires some concentration to navigate through the morass of dissonance, stop-start rhythmic patterns, an unusual percussive device and pizzicato strings. But the piece gradually falls into a shape of sorts if never a clear meaning, and becomes rather satisfying to listen to. One even feels sorry when the movement draws to a close. Maybe this is intentional because it prepares one for the rather morose second part . This has a definite mood - akin to that of Gorecki's Third Symphony. And here we find confirmation that Chloe is considerably more adept at and suited to playing the violin than she is posing for the camera! The third and final section is more upbeat reminding one not just a little bit of Steve Reich's orchestrations in Different Trains - not a bad thing at all. This is Adams at his most exciting and competent best, I think.
So here we have a great work shrouded in suspect wrapping, I'm sorry to say. If Naxos really did need to pad out the Adams opus, perhaps they should have considered putting it with a more compatible companion. To preserve the orchestra and violinist throughout the package, the Corigliano would have sufficed. But the inclusion of the Waxman pieces make the whole experience bloody hard work and detract from the overall success of the CD.