BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26; PRICE: Adoration (arr. Gray); Violin Concerto No. 1 in D; Violin Concerto No. 2 – Randall Goosby, violin/ Philadelphia Orchestra/ Yannick Nezet-Seguin – DECCA 485 4234 (4/14/23) (73:50) [Distr. by Universal] ****
Since her major re-discovery in 2009, the Afro-American composer Florence Price (1887-1953) has enjoyed a renaissance of interest in her music, which often proves eclectic, even derivative, in certain respects. The D Major Concerto provides a case in point, given its string debts to Tchaikovsky. Recorded live 6-9 October 2022, the 1939 Violin Concerto No. 1 conforms to traditional formal principles, while the opening motif, a pentatonic theme played Tempo moderato, alternates the solo and responsory orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s lyric style. The movement features a highly ornamental, chromatic cadenza written out by Price herself. A solo flute imitates a bird call, and a brass choir appears briefly. The writing proves rich in violin double stops and fiery arpeggios, bold impulses of energy, and moments of meditation.
The vocal line seems to borrow from a fund of Negro spirituals, and “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” haunts the progression. The cadenza echoes the Tchaikovsky contribution at several, bravura turns, then the solo rejoins the orchestra for what appears to be an idyll, close in spirit to Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. A sonic surprise lays in wait near the end of the movement: con brio, a codetta has the solo exclaim and find a response – church style – from the orchestra after an extended pedal point.
The second movement Andante feels saturated by Arkansas spiritual music, a folk invocation of piety and nature-worship. The orchestral tissue relies on homophonic motives, and the solo’s secondary tune progresses in a minor mode, pentatonically. Moments of cadenza appear, but they are short lived and reflective. The musical effect sits between hymnal incantation and wistful lament. The movement closes softly, sorrowfully. The last movement, Allegro, provides a stirring series of dance impulses, syncopated and chromatically adventurous. Lyrical energies interrupt the dance flow, but the music does insist on sparks from the solo and diverse orchestral colors. A galloping intensity closes the work with a bravura flourish.
The Violin Concerto No. 2 (1952) is cast in one movement that subdivides into four sections, in which the main and secondary themes appear in particulal textures, echoing the influence of Negro spirituals. The string and brass choirs pair off to create a cocoon of warm ambiance, supported by the Philadelphia harp, into which the solo inserts a jaunty idyll. The rhythmic impulse might be termed “juba,” although the lilt of the tune and its dainty harmonization aim for a general, rural invocation. Goosby brings an easy warmth, a polished sensibility to the proceedings. The orchestra serves as a strong duet partner, especially as a new section drives forth, polyphonic and accented. lightly playful, swaggering casually and then more forcefully. Once strings and muted brass enter, the effect is Sunday-spiritual. The gambit seems intentionally rhapsodic in content, abandoning sonata-form for a meandering progression that owes debts to British music of the early 20th Century. The opening section returns, in chromatic variants that rely on tunes that appeared prior, here in lyrical apotheosis.
“Adoration” is a late work by Price, yet it seems to recall her early experience in organ training and serving as an accompanist for silent cinema. Set here by Jim Gray for solo violin and string orchestra, the piece fulfills the function of a pearly romance for violin and small ensemble.
The Goosby collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nezet-Seguin in the familiar Bruch G Minor Concerto derives from 1-3 November 2022 studio sessions. Goosby wanted to include the Price works within the context of a standard, Romantic repertory piece. The passionate, throbbing energy of the first movement, Vorspiel – Allegro moderato projects the allure we have come to expect from such luminaries, like Heifetz and Milstein, whom Goosby openly admires. We recall, ironically, Joachim’s critique of the piece at its premiere as “poor man’s Mendelssohn,” given the luster the concerto has come to represent, especially apt here, with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s support. The lovely Adagio leaves us hanging in a lyric haze when the last movement Allegro hurtles forward. No revelations, but a thoroughly engaged and compelling rendition of a classic to accompany the Price novelties.
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