GROSLOT. Concerto for Orchestra, Violin Concerto. Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Brussels Philharmonic, Robert Groslot, conductor. [August 10, 2018]. CD. Naxos Records. 60:06  [Dist. Naxos] *****:

His music is just starting to get distributed in this country. However, many European listeners know of him, not only as a composer but as a Belgian conductor who was the lead honcho for the famed Night of the Proms concert series. (He ended his 880 concert run in 2015.) As a composer, he’s particularly adept in the media of chamber music and concertos (currently over twenty!). In addition to the Concerto for Orchestra and Violin Concerto, two more of his chamber music CDs are distributed by Naxos.

Like an Olympic diver, Violinist Joanna Kurkowicz plunges into the bracing pool of Groslot’s Violin Concerto. The first note she plays is the highest one she can and it’s an eerie opener to this unconventional (albeit amiable) piece. It sets the tone for a perky carnival ride of sudden tempo and dynamic shifts. Kurkowicz’s formidable experience in performing modern works aids her in her anabasis over the piece’s craggier peaks. The cadenza is well-timed at not-too-short-or-too-long. It also displays an exploratory nature. There’s no telling what will happen next in this succinct one-movement piece: quavers, pizzacatos, adumbrated scalar runs. The orchestra slyly gets away with a quirky accompaniment. For example: first, there’s a stately dance theme, which the violin gleefully joins in on, then at the end we hear Wagnerian declarations, stentorian and stolid, which the violin whimsically answers with the same high note on which it began. Groslot has obviously learned from Alban Berg (and maybe Paul Hindemith), so it’s only right that future composers may soon learn from him.

Portrait of Robert Groslot

Robert Groslot, Composer
Foto: R. Groslot

Groslot’s Concerto for Orchestra has two other notable concertos to maneuver around, Béla Bartók’s and Witold Lutosławski’s. Fortunately, the composer doesn’t try to best them but instead moves in an entirely different direction. It begins placidly enough, as if nudging furtively around corners, but soon it’s punctured by outbursts from the brass and kettledrums. A deceptive calm emerges as Groslot explores more bristly musical structures and lurking rhythms, reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for their implied violence and sidelong aural assaults. In II, no placidity thrives  long before there’s another outburst of some sort. There’s a brief respite in III, with its reassuring title of “Nachtmusik,” but even here there are frothing waves of romanticism that nobody should take that seriously. By the time we hear IV, there are rattling sforzandos of frustration and what a din they all make! Don’t miss out! This Concerto for Orchestra is hot date music.

Don’t get me wrong. I for one love outbursts and conflicts in art. If you think about it, they’re all around us: letters to the editor, presidential tweets, divorce court proceedings, labor disputes, surprise endings. They never seem to last very long, but they do get our attention and sometimes they even bind us together. Outbursts are the rubber cement of life. How charming to hear them expressed so well in a modern musical piece.

—Peter Bates