Magazine article Musical Opinion

John Adams: Violin Concerto (1993)/ Roy Harris: Violin Concerto (1949)

Magazine article Musical Opinion

John Adams: Violin Concerto (1993)/ Roy Harris: Violin Concerto (1949)

Article excerpt

John Adams: Violin Concerto (1993)/ Roy Harris: Violin Concerto (1949)

Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Litton

***** Signum Classics SIGCD 468 [62'22"]

Here are two extremely interesting (one of them rather more than that) 20th-century American violin concertos which certainly deserve recording, and which receive on this absolutely unique disc performances which surely tell us everything we need to know about both works.

Perhaps, in a couple of instances, rather more than the composers might wish, for neither is an out-and-out success as a work of art, though I have no doubt at all that it is the Roy Harris work which is very much the greater. Written for the Cleveland Orchestra's concert master in 1949 and due to be premiered by him under George Szell, insoluble publishing problems during rehearsals led to the premiere being abandoned - and the work was thereafter completely forgotten until after Harris's death in 1979 at the age of 80. This was undoubtedly something of a tragedy, in more ways than one (which we shall not go into), but exceptional thanks are due to Tamsin Waley-Cohen in more ways than one (which we shall go into).

Harris is a truly fascinating figure: arguably the greatest non-urban American composer of his time, culminating early in the magnificent Third Symphony, which is today almost utterly ignored - especially in the United States, to its' musicians eternal shame. But after the Third Symphony (1938), Harris stepped down somewhat from what he could surely have become: the 'Folksong Symphony' (No 4, with homespun chorus) is too parochial, and the individually fine Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies do not go much further than the Third - so by the time of this Violin Concerto Harris found himself trying to navigate out of the backwater into which he had canoed. …

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