Admired by Schoenberg (who described him as ‘one of the most underestimated of modern composers’), Joseph Achron was a boundary defying violinist-composer of extraordinary gifts. He drew on his Jewish faith to profound effect, from the early influence of his cantor father to his enthusiastic championing of the Society for Jewish Folk Music (which did for Jewish music what Bartók did for Eastern European folk culture). It’s hardly surprising that much of Achron’s music is for violin—he was a consummate player himself and a prolific recitalist.
Ernest Bloch's major works for violin and piano may compel respect, but they might not inspire love or give much pleasure. The violent, unstable Violin Sonata No. 1 (1920) is a bracing expression of the turbulence of World War I, and Bloch pushes the music's tension to incredible lengths over the work's 30 minutes. One may appreciate the sincerity of Bloch's expression and the effort he put in this wrenching work, but still not find it enjoyable or moving for its severity and frequent ugliness.
This sparkling suite for violin and piano came into being when the composer had to adapt his incidental score for a production of Shakespeare's play to the impending absence of the chamber orchestral. The result is a brilliant piece for violin and piano, which the composer quickly released in a four-movement version. There are other recordings of the chamber orchestra suite in five-movements that duplicate only three of the movements of this version. Violinist Gil Shaham and pianist André Previn are ideal partners in this brilliant performance. The four movements allow Shaham to show four sides of his violinist's personality: He skips and plays in carefree fashion in the opening movement, indulges in the grotesquery and parody of the second, gets to play the romantic in the garden scene of the third movement, and dazzles with virtuosity in the final hornpipe. Previn's part is more than mere accompaniment; the piano often has a large part of the mood of the music and his contribution is, to use a word already employed here, ideal.
The town of Palermo was illuminated and Claudio Abbado revealed his strong Sicilian roots. Viewers of this concert, broadcasted on TV all across Europe, were inspired to see the maestro so relaxed, gesticulating so emphatically.
As a life-long fan of Williams' film music, I have only recently discovered his more "serious" pieces. Like many versatile composers before him (think Korngold, Waxman, etc.), Williams is able to function in both worlds, writing rousing, effective scores and introspective, yet extremely dynamic works for concerto and orchestra.
The modern popularity of Baroque music is a striking contrast to its original reception. Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons,' written in 1725, was hardly noticed by music critics until it was revived in the early 1920s. Today it is one of the most recognized compositions of all time. Each mellifluent movement has worked its way into our common cultural language.
This disc, which features a CD-ROM encoding of a video for the "Winter" movement (both Macintosh- and PC-compatible), is a 1993 recording of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. This talented young group is bringing new popularity to its music through nontraditional means. The "Winter" video, which received its broadcast premier on The Weather Channel, gained the attention of a new audience.