Lydia Mordkovitch Tribute – British Violin Concertos = Works of BAX, BLISS, DYSON & VEALE – Chandos (2 CDs)

Chandos celebrates the late Lydia Mordkovitch, assembling her stunning performances of rare British concertos.

Lydia Mordkovitch Tribute – British Violin Concertos = BAX: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; BLISS: Concerto for Violin and Orch.; DYSON: Violin Concerto; VEALE: Violin Concerto – Lydia Mordkovitch, v./ London Philharmonic Orch./ Bryden Thomson/ BBC Nat. Orch. of Wales/ BBC Sym. Orch./ City of London Sinfonia/ Richard Hickox – Chandos CHAN 241-53 (2 CDs) 78:39, 77:36 (7/15/15) [Distrib. by Naxos] ****:

Chandos celebrates the artistry of the late Lydia Mordkovitcxh (1944-2014), the Russian violinist who had served as David Oistrakh’s assistant before emigrating to Israel (in 1974) and then to Great Britain in 1980.  Besides having been voted Outstanding Woman of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Mordkovitch became a Professor and Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and a founding artist for Chandos Records. The British concertos inscribed here derive from sessions of 1991-2006.

The Violin Concerto of Sir Arnold Bax (1938, rev. 1943) had been meant for Jascha Heifetz, but that virtuoso expressed his disappointment with the solo part.  Rewriting the work for Eda Kersey, Bax found his long-awaited premiere from her and Sir Henry Wood with the BBC Symphony. The Concerto’s first movement combines a trinity of forms that conform to a sonata-form structure: Overture, Ballade and Scherzo, and it projects a debonair, light sensibility, rather romantic, which Bax himself called “in the manner of Raff.” Mordkovitch and Hickox restore the music to its original, uncut version. The orchestral part, under Hickox, enjoys some restless, heavily punctuated passages, flavored by wind and harp colors.  Biographers attribute the more sensual aspects of the score to Bax’s liaison with Christine Ryan.

The Adagio has been compared to “a pseudo-eighteenth century soundscape.” Certainly, the opening pages present us an idyll in large colors, a la Richard Strauss, Max Bruch, or George Butterworth.  If any music “sells” the Mordkovitch tone, this sweet, rhapsodic reverie does. Mordkovitch reinstates a brief cadenza in double stops Bax had removed prior to publication. The last movement, a rustic Allegro, has an effective contrast in a waltz in slow tempo. Mordkowitz reinstates yet another passage, in soft sixteenths, as if Bax were imitating Mendelssohn, while the rest has reminded us of Ravel. A trumpet (of prophecy, perhaps) announces the return of the opening motif just prior to a hurried close.

Equally significant, Mordkovitch performs the 1955 Violin Concerto by Arthur Bliss, music conceived directly for violin virtuoso Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991), who recorded the work under the composer’s direction. Like Campoli – and Heifetz – Mordkovitch packs a potent spiccato, as well as a natural bel canto fluency. The colorful first movement exploits a motto, fanfare theme that yields to a lyrical subject displaying Mordkovitch’s easy facility with lyrical material, which serves her well in the cadenza. Bliss likes his battery section, so the colors of percussion play against the strings, harp and solo that offer lyric consolation. For his second movement, Bliss opts for a nimbly energetic scherzo (Vivo) much influenced by Berlioz of Queen Mab fame.  Mordkovitch – often in double stops – and woodwinds dialogue effectively, the latter fluttering in a helter-skelter fashion across our imagination. For his expansive finale, Bliss combines a slow movement Andante sostenuto tied to his “Latin” Allegro deciso in modo zingaro movement, in accord with Campoli’s fiery, “gypsy” temperament. The thematic tissue, on the other hand, often alludes to the Bartok Second Violin Concerto, likely by way of homage. The solo cadenza reverts to reminiscences of Ravel’s Tzigane, cross-fertilized by Bach, Ysaye, and Bartok.  The harp and battery sneak back in to move to the main theme in variation leads to a thrilling conclusion.

The relatively unknown Violin Concerto by John Veale (1922-2006) was composed in 1984 and premiered by Erich Gruenberg. A romantic anger permeates the first movement, Moderato – Allegro, while the second, mostly muted movement serves as a love letter to his daughter, who died young.  Veale, who wrote film scores, enjoys a natural penchant for melody and rich scoring, and his syntax remains accessibly tonal. He always admired Jean Sibelius, William Walton and Samuel Barber. The rapid passages become quite demanding, well within Mordkovitch’s bravura temperament. The orchestral part, exploiting chromatic brass and tympani, allows conductor Hickox and the BBC their own kudos.

The second movement remains “personal” and “compulsive.” Mordkovitch will modulate – having exploited the instrument’s G string – high above the stave in harmonics, sharing an aerial lament with the harp. The dreamy atmosphere might owe a debt to the equally surreal moments in the Prokofiev concertos. The Vivace finale in adjusted rondo form finds some reconciliation with fate, establishing a 3/8 dance in edgy colors led by the xylophone. Veale provides another spacious, romantic tune in chromatic triplets. A revel beset by introspection, the movement ends exuberantly, perhaps a concession that late fame easily trumps the obscurity into which this music had fallen prior to Lydia Mordkovitch’s advocacy.

George Dyson (1883-1964) had been a student – a pupil of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford – at the Royal College of Music who then eventually became its director.  The four-movement Violin Concerto (1941) received its premiere from Albert Sammons and Sir Adrian Boult. The huge opening movement, Molto moderato, bears an staid, Elgar-like, tragically elegiac dignity, with the solo’s entrance’s lingering over a theme extended over eighteen measures. Much of the development – excepting an animated orchestral section that excludes the solo for ten pages – assumes a bucolic cast, lyrical and mistily musing, extended by a brief cadenza. A tune, “Now let us ride,” from Dyson’s The Canterbury Pilgrim supplies the gigue motive for the triplet-laden scherzo, Vivace. Dyson’s talent for melody displays itself in his Poco andante third movement, setting a long 32-bar theme in 2/4 in muted strings, answered by Mordkovitch in ¾, who then gravitates via variation into a charming 6/8 waltz. The meditation will dissolve, but only after having returned to the 2/4 theme from Mordkovitch.  Dyson‘s final movement projects a festive character, a sunny Allegro ma non troppo dance that does look back to a theme in the first movement. The tympani part rivals Mordkovitch for attention, but she remains unruffled by any instrumental competition, queen of all she surveys.

—Gary Lemco

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