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ROY HARRIS & JOHN ADAMS: Violin Concertos with Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) / BBC Sym. Orch./Andrew Litton – Signum Classics

ROY HARRIS & JOHN ADAMS: Violin Concertos with Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) / BBC Sym. Orch./Andrew Litton – Signum Classics  SIGCD468, 62:22 (10/1/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Two lovely contemporary violin concertos.

This is a highly desirable recording from Signum Classics. It offers two violin concertos by American composers Roy Harris and John Adams. The Adams is fairly well known but the Harris concerto is a real find.

Both men grew up in rural circumstances, Harris being born in a log cabin in Oklahoma. His music always has an ‘American’ feel to it, sometimes sounding a bit ‘Copland-esque’, but Harris has a unique voice with rural roots, and splendid orchestration.

The Harris Violin Concerto was written in 1949, but did not get a first performance until 1984. The BBC Symphony gives the piece an exuberant and dynamic reading. Ms. Cohen is a rising star among violinists, and one can find ample evidence of that in her performance here. ‘

The John Adams Violin Concerto was composed in 1993, and Adams described the work as having a ‘hypermelody’, in which the soloist plays longs phrases without stop for the duration of the 35 minute piece. It’s a taxing piece for both the orchestra and Ms. Cohen, but it’s very well played and a satisfying listening experience. American Andrew Litton conducts with authority.

The CD was recorded at the BBC Maida Vale Studios in London. It’s an excellent recording space, and the perspective of the recording is close up and detailed, a good match for the music. Positions of the instruments within the orchestra are never jumbled even during the most dynamic passages.

This release should be celebrated by those of us who love contemporary classical music. The Harris is really a fine piece to get a modern recording, and the Adams piece is very well played and a fine listen.  Recommended!

—Mel Martin

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