Barber: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Korngold: Violin Concerto; Waxman: Carmen Fantasy; Williams: Theme from Schindler's List. Alexander Gilman, violin; Perry So, The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. OehmsClassics OC 799.

So, what are the connections among Barber, Korngold, Waxman, and Williams? There are always connections, right? Well, in this case, they are all twentieth-century composers, of course.  And they are all essentially Romanticists after their time. But, more important, they all either wrote at one point or another directly for Hollywood or allowed Hollywood to use their music in films. On the present album, we get a chance to hear mostly music they wrote for the concert hall, with the John Williams piece most obviously written for a movie.

The primary performers on the disc are a young pair of musicians (both coincidentally born in 1982) with enormous talent and potential, who provide the music with a Romantic spirit and youthful vitality. German violinist Alexander Gilman has performed and won competitions throughout the world and is also currently an assistant at the University of Music in Zurich. Chinese conductor Perry So has also performed worldwide, won awards, and is currently the Associate Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. With the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, the participants do the music proud.

The program begins with the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, by the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Of the composers on the album, it is only Barber who did not write directly for the movies, yet filmmakers used his Adagio for Strings in motion pictures like Platoon, Lorenzo's Oil, The Elephant Man, and probably others. Anyway, Gilman's violin floats above the orchestra, the tone heartfelt and sweet. It's surprising that two performers as young as Gilman and So would produce such a relaxed and moving an interpretation; I mean, you might have expected them maybe to have hurried things along with quick tempos, quirky phrasing variations, and extreme dynamic contrasts. It's good to see they resisted the temptations and present the music in a most-touching manner, intimate and soaring.

Next, we find the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35, by the Austro-Hungarian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Folks possibly know Korngold best for his swashbuckling music for Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the like, but he wrote a considerable number of non-movie pieces as well. As we might expect of a composer accomplished in film scores, Korngold's work is rhapsodic and filled with references to his own movie music.  Its melodic richness could well underscore any Hollywood romance of the day. Again, Gilman and So treat the piece with reverence, soberness, and almost old-fashioned sentiment. It's exactly what the music needs, and the second-movement Andante is meltingly beautiful. Then, as Barber did in his concerto, Korngold ends his work in a rather rambunctious style, with Gilman and So letting their hair down, so to speak.

After that, we get The Carmen Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra by the German-American composer Franz Waxman (1906-1967). As you can guess, he based the piece on themes from Bizet's opera, so it gives the performers a chance at further exhibiting some bravura playing. Originally, Waxman had written the Fantasie for the movie Humoresque (1946) and later adapted it for the concert stage.

Finally, we hear the theme from the movie Schindler's List by American composer John Williams (b. 1932). The music is brief and appropriately serious. It also allows the orchestra a bigger role in the music making and provides opportunities for both Gilman and So to shine.

OehmsClassics recorded the program in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa, to good, atmospheric effect. The sound is big and warm, the violin comparatively close, the orchestra placed effortlessly behind it in a wide array. There is a pleasing sense of ambient bloom on the instruments, which also tends very slightly to veil the presentation's overall transparency. Nevertheless, the rich, resonant sonics go a long way toward conveying the Romantic mood of the music, and it doesn't really affect the tone of the violin, which remains quite clear and natural throughout the proceedings. Add in a resplendent bass, solid impact, and a reasonably good depth of field, and you get a sonic presentation that's easy to like.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa