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John Corigliano Violin Concerto Recorded for Naxos

January 14, 2009

Michael Ludwig, violin
During 2007 and 2008 Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic in no fewer than five works by American composer John Corigliano. Was this some sort of collusion? Yes and no. The conductor likes to expose her audience to music by composers she finds imaginative and communicative, and Corigliano is one of her favorites. In this case, she once told Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos, of her fascination with Corigliano’s oeuvre. So when he was looking for a first-rate orchestra to make Corigliano recordings for the Naxos American Classics Series, he remembered that conversation and tapped Falletta and the BPO.

In 2007, Mr Tambourine Man, Corigliano’s 2003 settings of seven Bob Dylan poems, was recorded in Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall with soprano Hila Plitmann, along with Corigliano’s Three Hallucinations (1981) from the film Altered States [Naxos 8.559331]  The Naxos recording hit the street last October and will probably be reviewed in ARG by the time you read this article.

More recently, on October 18-19, Falletta and the BPO performed Corigliano’s Violin Concerto (2003) with Concertmaster Michael Ludwig as soloist. Derived and expanded from the composer’s score for the film The Red Violin, it was recorded in concert by Naxos along with Corigliano’s Phantasmagoria on TheGhosts of Versailles (2000) and is only the second recording of the concerto (Joshua Bell’s was the first in 2007).

The music’s presence hung in the air, commanding one’s attention so starkly that it seemed impossible that this could be happening without someone having plugged the orchestra in before the first downbeat

The concerto opens with a version of the lengthy Chaconne used in the film, a forceful, serious, obsessively pulsed yet not overbearing statement. It is countered by ‘Anna’ Theme’, a soulful, haunting, almost bittersweet melody that lingers in the mind. Through the long first movement, the almost pointillistic Pianissimo Scherzo, the calming Andante Flautando, and the Finale that the composer calls “a race between the violin and orchestra” there are recurring, unifying references to these two main subjects. At every turn, violinist Ludwig was in complete command technically and expressively, whether in moments of overbearing bravado, running passages where the violin’s role seems more a concertante instrument than a soloist, or whispered embroidery barely above the threshold of audibility.

So much happens in this music that detailed observations would require extensive space. But in listening to this Corigliano Fest, a larger sense of what drives his music came to mind. An electric charge seemed to surround and power Corigliano’s music. That applied to the drama of the Tambourine Man songs, the ghostly flutes and Rossini and Mozart quotes in the Phantasmagoria, and the violin concerto’s array of ear-shattering percussion bursts, blazing brass interjections, and exquisite moments of violin rumination over punctuating  harp figures. There is no implication here that the orchestra sounded amplified. But the music’s presence hung in the air, commanding one’s attention so starkly that it seemed impossible that this could be happening without someone having plugged the orchestra in before the first downbeat. This is high voltage music, even in low amperage moments like the tender ‘Anna’s Theme’. And the good news for BPO audiences and buyers of their Naxos CDs is that Falletta and the orchestra seem to have become ideal purveyors of Corigliano’s unique musical message.

In the middle of the Corigliano Fest, Falletta also offered the composer’s 1986 Fantasia on an Ostinato, based on the opening of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. That reconfirmed her flair for inventive programming, because she concluded those May 30-31, 2008, concerts with the Beethoven Seventh.

- Herman Trotter, American Record Guide, January/February 2008

John Corigliano Biography & Discography

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Biography & Discography

Michael Ludwig Biography & Discography


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