With this superlative 1999 recording by violinist Isabelle van Keulen with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard, the Swedish modernist Allan Pettersson's late Second Violin Concerto receives its first digital recording. The only previous recording on Capriccio from 1980 had been performed by the forces that gave the work its premiere early that year, violinist Ida Haendel with the Swedish Radio Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt, and it stood inviolate for almost 20 years until the arrival of this disc.
None of these reconstructions are included in Teldec’s Bach 2000, although the better-known ‘originals’ obviously are. The real newcomer is the Sinfonia, BWV1045 (5'34'') ‘to an unknown cantata’ which – as befits a BWV number that immediately precedes the First Brandenburg Concerto – is rumbustious, festive and thematically likeable. Time and again I could sense allusions to other Bach instrumental pieces, though the soloist’s ceaseless arpeggiating is sometimes a distraction. We’re told it’s authentic (the manuscript source suggests a violin concerto in the making) but something about its harmonic language doesn’t quite ring true, though that reaction might well be due to lack of familiarity.
Nicola Porpora, a contemporary of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Haydn (and a very young Mozart) is best remembered today as a famous singing teacher and opera composer. During his long career (he lived to age 81) he suffered many employment-related difficulties and disappointments that caused him to move frequently. Naples (where he was born), Venice, Dresden, and Vienna (where he taught Haydn) all enjoyed Porpora's reputable presence, and he even spent a period in London at the behest of a group seeking to unseat Handel and his opera company from its preeminent position. In addition to his operas and vocal music, Porpora wrote instrumental works such as the six violin sonatas featured here, which are drawn from a set of 12. Although anyone familiar with Italian Baroque and early Classical-style solo violin music will discover nothing particularly original on this generally fine recording, if you enjoy that genre and period you'll find much here to indulge and satisfy your taste.
The Gemini Series features an impressive roster of singers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles of international renown, all from the incomparable EMI Classics stable. EMI's rich legacy of recording expertise comes to the fore in performances from the 1960s to the 1990s. Gemini titles are predominantly collections of single composers and fantastic value with well over an hour of music on each CD, making them the ideal place to start or develop a collection of classical music. Each 2-CD set contains over two hours of music for a fantastically low price. Attractively designed and packaged in space-saving brilliant boxes, each set includes three-language booklets with detailed notes on the music.
Although he is fondly remembered for his many exemplary film scores composed during the Second World War, Korngold's more "serious" concerto works – particularly those written after the war – are becoming increasingly well-respected and widely performed. Chief among those works gaining tremendous popularity is his violin concerto. Hints of the sweep and grandeur of the film genre can still be heard in the concerto, but never to the point where Korngold's music sounds trite or unpolished. Rather, Korngold casts the violin in a decidedly Romantic style while still managing to include snippets of previous film scores, making for an easily accessible listening experience. Contrasting sharply with Korngold's increasing popularity is Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas.
Judging simply by timings, Mintz and Sinopoli seem to have decided on a middle path in their approach to the first movement of this concerto: they take nearly a minute less over it than Mutter and Karajan (also on DG), about a minute and a half more than Perlman and Giulini on EMI. Using ears rather than a stopwatch, however, they seem to be giving by far the slowest performance of the movement that I have heard in years. It is a reading from which anything which might savour of soloistic display has been expunged, in which no note, even one of a flourish of semiquavers, is allowed to be 'merely' decorative. Mutter is fond of polishing every note like a jewel, too, but the very opening of the concerto in hers and Karajan's reading sounds positively sprightly set beside the newcomer. The moment Mutter enters the speed slackens markedly, but Karajan watchfully assures that the pulse returns with each tutti, and a sense of momentum is present throughout, even during the soloist's most wayward rhapsodizings.
Because he's long been stereotyped by the rousing neo-romantic adventure scores for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park franchises, it's easy to forget that composer John Williams is hardly idiomatically challenged. When Steven Spielberg gratifyingly used the clout of his enormous commercial success to produce and direct this brave Holocaust drama, his longtime musical collaborator used the opportunity to display both the depth and maturity of his musical gifts and training, producing a score with sad, evocative melodies frequently carried by the violin of the great Itzhak Perlman. Rich with ethnic nuance and showcasing the composer's masterful orchestral/choral subtlety, Williams's emotionally compelling score for Schindler's List also won the Academy Award for Best Dramatic Score.