About this Recording
8.559364 - CORIGLIANO: Red Violin Caprices (The) / Violin Sonata / THOMSON, V.: 5 Ladies / Portraits (Quint)

John Corigliano (b. 1938)
The Red Violin Caprices • Violin Sonata


Born in New York City on 16 February 1938, John Corigliano studied with Otto Luening at Columbia University, graduating in 1959. He has since pursued a varied career including music programmer for several radio stations, assistant to Leonard Bernstein on his Young People’s Concerts, record producer for CBS and teacher at various institutions including the Juilliard School. He was the first Composer-in-Residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his music has received numerous distinctions, including the Grawemeyer Award in 1991 and two Grammy awards in 1991 and 1996. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1991, the year in which his full-length opera The Ghosts of Versailles was given its première by New York’s Metropolitan Opera, so making it the company’s first new commission for almost a quarter of a century.

Although his music has been described as being in a neo-tonal manner, Corigliano’s stylistic range covers the gamut of modern techniques, including serialism and minimalism. Something of this inclusiveness is evident from a chamber-music output which, if less substantial than his orchestral or choral music, includes several major works. Neither should his idiomatic writing for violin come as a surprise, as his father was for many years a violinist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Corigliano has several times revisited his score for the film The Red Violin (1997), which won him an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1999. In The Red Violin Caprices (2002) content is allied to a technique making strenuous demands on the performer. The pensive Theme is identical in substance to that heard in the earlier Chaconne (Naxos 8.559306) but is harmonized differently. The First Variation exudes a Paganinian virtuosity, and the Second Variation is a sustained exploration of multi-stopping and vividly incisive passagework. The Third Variation is more restrained with a ‘folk’ tinge, which the Fourth Variation duly expands into an ‘aria’ of rhetorical eloquence. The Fifth Variation then provides a surging rhythmic conclusion to the sequence.

Corigliano’s capabilities are evident in the Violin Sonata (1963) that is among his earliest acknowledged works. The opening Allegro begins with a lively discourse between the instruments, complemented by a more suave idea as the movement proceeds. The initial music is given varied restatement, before the movement draws to its close with an excited flourish. The Andantino focuses on a wistful theme that soon takes on greater intensity. There follows a subdued central section that makes play with various aspects of the theme, then the latter is eloquently restated and an unexpectedly vigorous climax is reached, with the movement recalling its central section as it winds down to a subdued close. The Lento opens with declamatory piano writing, after which the violin enters in plangent recitative. There follows a cadenza-like passage towards the centre of the movement, before the piano re-emerges for a close of calm uncertainty. The final Allegro is launched in greatest possible contrast, the toccata-like energy of its first theme being enhanced by some scintillating instrumental interplay. A lyrical theme provides for the necessary respite, then the initial music returns and the two themes are alternated leading to a forceful climax, after which the piece proceeds on its effervescent way to a decisive close.



Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)
Three Portraits • Five Ladies • Eight Portraits


Coming from a very different musical background, and representing a very different musical aesthetic, Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City on 25th November 1896. Although he graduated from Harvard University in 1923, it was a period of study in Paris during the early 1920s (when he was a student of Nadia Boulanger and met such seminal figures as Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau) that determined his future direction as a composer. Resident in Paris during 1925-40, his music is both a skilful and (though he might well have considered it otherwise) personal assimilation of Gallic clarity and an American-derived nostalgia, with hymn tunes and traditional songs often being evident, that he sustained through to his death in New York City on 30th September 1989. In addition Thomson was a noted teacher and lecturer, and also a critic and polemicist: his often provocative writing on a wide range of musical issues is still required reading today.

Although he composed three full-length stageworks (the first two, Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All were written in collaboration with the American emigrée Gertrude Stein, while the third, Lord Byron, is an unexpectedly powerful summation of his art), as well as much-praised scores for several influential ballets and films (including that for The Louisiana Story, which won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for music), and a number of distinctive orchestral and chamber works, Thomson was essentially a master of the miniature. A large number of ‘Portraits’ testify to his skill at capturing the essence of a personality in music, and these date from the late 1920s until just before his death. Many were published as seven volumes of Portraits for Piano Solo (1948-83), but there also exist numerous pieces for ensemble and for orchestra, such as the three collections included here.

The Three Portraits originated as piano pieces written in 1940 and were arranged for violin and piano by Samuel Dushkin in 1947. That which depicts Georges Hugnet is a Barcarolle of whimsical irony, while that evoking Mademoiselle Alvarez de Toledo is a Tango Lullaby allying its underlying rhythm to music of suave demeanour. The depiction of Lise Deharme, In a Bird Cage, then ends the sequence with music whose outward rhetoric is the more so for its being played by violin alone.

The collection known as Five Ladies originated as individual pieces written across the 1930s, and were only published in their present guise in 1983. The first is an eloquent Fanfare for Cynthia Kemper, while the second is an affectionate evocation of Anne Miracle. The third is an extended portrait of Alice Toklas, animated and songful in equal measure, the fourth a lightly accentuated description of Yvonne de Casa Fuerte, and the fifth a winsome portrayal of Mary Reynolds.

The Eight Portraits for solo violin were written during 1928-40 and are Thomson’s most substantial such collection outside of those for solo piano. The overall sequence has been assembled so as to provide a satisfying trajectory. The first piece is the dryly humorous evocation of Georges Hugnet, Poet and Man of Letters, and the second a typically pert characterization of Señorita Juanita de Medina, accompanied by her mother. The third number is the notably capricious portrait of Madame Marthe-Marthine, surely one of Thomson’s most virtuosic such pieces, and the fourth is a wistful description of Gertrude Stein, as a young girl, while the fifth similarly pays homage to Cliqnet-Pleyel (and in the key of F). The sixth piece is an eloquent tribute to Mrs Chester Whitin Lasell, while the seventh describes the once influential composer Henri Sauguet, from life. The eighth piece is the most substantial, a portrait of Ruth Smallens that builds into a searching study and brings the set to an atypically emotional close.

Richard Whitehouse

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