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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, July 2007

Naxos have a real winner here.

George Rochberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He found himself to be an accomplished pianist and played in jazz bands as a student to augment his income. He was seriously wounded in Europe during the Allied advance towards Germany. He counted Szell among his teachers at Mannes. The Second Symphony (1956) was greeted by the artistic world as the finest example of serialism applied to symphonic form.

The present Concerto starts uncompromisingly in crushing dissonance and aggression. However the listener soon becomes attuned to a work that moves naturally from dissonance to fibrously memorable melodic argument - completely tonal and fresh. At the same time you are coming to terms with some outstanding playing by soloist and orchestra.

Intermezzo A will stick obstinately in the memory for its demonic explosive attack. The pouncing string motif (tr. 2 1.30) has some of the massed string flavour of Arnold Rosner's writing - tragic-heroic. Along the way we hear music of vicious attack with barrages thundered out by orchestra. Skaerved picks up the note pattern and runs with it. Intermezzo B has that capricious pouncing theme instinct with character and radiating remorselessness and anger. Sometimes it is recalled in a more luminescent kindly light (2.01). Is there also a caustic humour in the fact that Intermezzo B (the fourth movement) is the longest - not quite what you expect of an intermezzo?

The documentation for the disc is all you could hope for. The recording has immediacy and impact with details registering sometimes in frightening perspective (try the section from 1.10 in Intermezzo A - lunging and thunderous). The sound is equivalent to the best Decca house-style production - a delight to hear.

Older hands will know that this is not the first time this Concerto has been recorded. It was issued by CBS in the 1970s as an LP but what certainly had not registered with me was that that version had been heavily mutilated.

What we hear now lays to claim to be the 'restored original version' and is to be very much welcomed. This is its world premiere recording which restores more than fourteen minutes of music cut as a result of Isaac Stern's requests. Stern, the dedicatee, felt that the work was 'too long and taxing both for the violinist and for the audience.'

I have not been able to compare the 1977 Stern/Previn recording. Has it ever been issued on CD? It is possible given the major Stern retrospect launched by Sony circa 1990. Perhaps it is as well anyway to start afresh given the anguish suffered by the composer over the butchery of those years from 1975 to 1977 during which remarkably it was publicly performed some 47 times.

This is not the first Rochberg to appear on Naxos. The same conductor and orchestra also recorded the Fifth Symphony, Black Sounds and Transcendental Variations on 8.559115.

It is clear that the Violin Concerto project has been a labour of love going by the results. This conductor is not unafraid of the unusual. He has already given us a superb Markevitch series (with more to come) on Marco Polo (8.223653, 8.223666, 8.223724, 8.223882, 8.225054, 8.225076, 8.225120). He has also provided a splendid recording of one of the twentieth century's most turbulently exciting wartime works, Arthur Benjamin's Symphony (also Marco Polo) as well as a Naxos collection of Varese orchestral works (8.554820). Lyndon-Gee numbers among his teachers Rudolf Schwarz, Franco Ferrara, Goffredo Petrassi and Markevitch. He is also a composer and is currently working on two major orchestral works - The Auschwitz Poems and Socrates' Death. He was also the conductor for the world premiere of an opera recently issued by ABC - Larry Sitsky's The Golem.

The Rochberg concerto is a powerful work with music of grit and emotionally fluency sustained across five meaty movements. It stands alongside the superb William Schuman concerto (also recorded by Naxos) as one of the finest concerted works by an American composer. Who knows, Naxos may yet, at this rate, give us the orchestral works of Ronald Stevenson which also include a Violin Concerto of similar dimensions and impact.

Robert Carl
Fanfare, November 2005

George Rochberg…violin concerto, with all the cuts that Isaac Stern demanded at last restored, shines forth as a glorious testament to his visionary humanism. The piece is big and raw, but this performance convinces one that it has to be so; one feels at the end to have traveled an entire life’s journey.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Fanfare, November 2004

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Bob McQuiston, July 2004

Magnificently performed here, this concerto is a masterpiece, which everyone interested in 20th century music should hear. George Rochberg's style is highly individual and very appealing because he skillfully contrasts cerebrally dodecaphonic elements with emotionally charged, tonal ones. In this work the violin could almost be considered a voice crying in some corner of the cosmos, maybe somewhat like the interrogatory trumpet in Charles Ives's "Unanswered Question." With Rochberg's help the conductor made this restoration/revision and it certainly eclipses the abridged version done for and recorded by Isaac Stern a few years back. This is definitely a case where bigger is better!

Roderic Dunnett
The Strad, July 2004

This is a massive rock of a work, from one of the giants of the US avant-garde. Composer of some of America's finest quartets and once the doyen of symphonic Serialism, George Rochberg later created a synthesis of a range of stances, styles and influences that confirms the demanding and the immediate may happily coexist.

This calls for an Isaac Stern - it was he who urged its commission, played it almost 50 times and made a triumphant Pittsburgh recording with Andre Previn (Sony). Yet that reading embraced sundry truncating cuts that Rochberg was prevailed upon to make. Someone needed to dust down the original - knotty crags, long-breathed paragraphs and all: here it is restored, thanks to the octogenarian Rochberg's personal sanction, the preserving powers of Switzerland's Sacher Foundation and the present recording's determined, prodigious composer-conductor.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved is a wonderful soloist, abetted by distinguished sound mastering from Saarbrucken Radio. The dimensions are huge, Beethovenian - if the warm Adagio is just eight minutes, the ensuing Intermezzo clocks up 18, shifting from ferocious outbursts to lulling sostenuto in vitally contrasted sections that suggest Beethoven's C minor Piano Sonata op.111 or C sharp minor Quartet (there are Bachian allusions too). A major requirement of the soloist is stamina, but the variety Skaerved imports is equally impressive. 'Aggressive, sexual, rhapsodic, pleading, bullying, sentimental, and damn frightening' was how it struck Skaerved when he heard it as a boy. He captures all of that in this memorable, insightful, exquisitely resolved reading, excellently matched by Christopher Lyndon-Gee, whose fine players ensure that Rochberg's German underlay - Berg, Hindemith, Frank Martin - is clearly heard.

John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune

"This pair of Naxos releases restores to circulation two large-scale symphonic works from the 1970s and '80s by George Rochberg, one of America's most honored living composers. Both the Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony are post-modernist works that mirror his late conversion to a style that draws on a complex of musical languages, including tonality and atonality.

The Violin Concerto was commissioned for Isaac Stern, who gave the premiere and recorded the work in 1. What makes the Naxos version noteworthy is that it is the first recording to restore some 14 minutes of music, about 19 pages of score in all, that Stern had asked the composer to delete because he felt the piece was too long and taxing for all concerned. This version also incorporates some minor improvements Rochberg made to the score when he undertook the cuts for Stern.

The full-length concerto is long, indeed -- nearly 52 minutes -- and does at times seem to stretch its post-Mahlerian gestures to the breaking point. But if you've got the time, Rochberg's now-anguished, now-soothing lyricism, tied to an existential subtext of man trapped in an unfeeling universe, compels you to pay attention to the very end. It is very beautifully played under Christopher Lyndon-Gee, without whose valiant efforts to rehabilitate the original score this recording would not exist.

The Fifth Symphony surfaces for the first time since Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony, which commissioned it to celebrate Chicago's sesquicentennial, in its world premiere in 1986. Naxos' budget price makes both discs well worth having, particularly if you're an American music completist. Rounding out the second one is "Black Sounds" and a sumptuous string-orchestra transcription of the Variations from Rochberg's Third String Quartet."

Peter Kristian Mose
The WholeNote

This disc bills itself as the first complete recording of the 1974 Concerto, written for Isaac Stern, André Previn and the Pittsburgh SO. Apparently Rochberg acceded back then to musicians' urges for substantial cuts (roughly 25%!), and was thrilled recently when English composer-conductor Lyndon-Gee wanted to do some serious restoration work. The result is a 52-minute, five-movement dark journey through the land of late Romanticism. Imagine a great Hollywood film composer given free rein to be lengthy and brooding. Skaerved seems a flawless fiddler of objectivist stripe, the Saarbr?cken RSO are fine, engineering is fine, Naxos pricing is great. Listen to this when you want a reminder that life is fundamentally grim, and that the concerto form is about contention and sober dialogue rather than about either heroism or romp.

Scott Morrison

"Rochberg's Violin Concerto As It Was Intended! 'Hallelujah!' Lyndon-Gee's notes detail his preparation for this recording...[Peter Sheppard Skaerved] is a true musician who also possesses technique to spare...Lyndon-Gee and his Alsatian orchestra give outstanding support. This is, in my opinion, a major release for which I am exceedingly grateful. Hats off to Naxos for undertaking to restore to us the complete Rochberg Concerto in such a fine performance as this. Five Stars."

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