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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, March 2009

Quint’s technical and musical resources enable him to weld these disparate variations into a vivid reminiscence of the movie’s story and adrenaline-laced violin-playing.

…[Quint] plays with ample violinistic authority throughout and with an acidulousness that seems to fit the overall ambiance of these portraits. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Edith Eisler
Strings Magazine, November 2008

The Caprices (2002) consist of a slow, dreamy theme and five variations contrasting in tempo, mood, tonality, texture…In violinist Philippe Quint, Corigliano (b. 1938) has found another virtuoso who can toss off all these and more with ease and aplomb. Quint’s tone is gorgeous, even in the stratosphere…

…Corigliano’s Violin and Piano Sonata (1963) shows the influence of Hindemith and Copland, but its pungent, syncopated rhythms and long, singing melodies have made it a repertory staple.

Virgil Thomson’s Portraits…are all tonal and pleasant…The performers bring admirable commitment…

On this record, the playing’s the thing.

American Record Guide, September 2008

John Corigliano’s 2002 Red Violin Caprices for solo violin is a set of variations on a theme from his score for the 1997 film. In the spirit of the film, which is about the travels of a particular violin through time and space, Corigliano draws a great deal from the solo violin music of Paganini as well as other virtuoso violinist-composers from places east and west of Italy.

There is a much more American-sounding color to the very satisfying 1963 Violin Sonata, a piece Corigliano wrote when he was only 21. He might have been under the influence of Copland, Hindemith (the theme of II recalls the first theme of the Viola Sonata Opus 11:4), and a handful of composers who wrote for the American musical theater.

Virgil Thomson’s Three Portraits began in 1940 as piano pieces and were arranged in 1947 by Samuel Dushkin for violin and piano. As hard as Quint and Wolfram try to give equal substance to the Five Ladies (for violin and piano) they, along with Thomson’s Eight Portraits (for solo violin), still strike me as snippets of undeveloped and unsatisfying material.

All the playing on this recording is stunning, even when the music isn’t (much of the Thomson).

Patrick Gary
MusicWeb International, September 2008

John Corigliano is many things: a Pulitzer prize winner for his 2nd Symphony, a highly regarded film composer, and the composer of some of the modern masterworks among orchestral concertos. He writes for a myriad instruments and in many contrasting styles, often even in the same work. However, with all of the diversity, there is one point of consistency to his compositional style. He aims to remain accessible for the average listener while still writing music worthy of note by the professors and critics.

As such he was an ideal composer for the 1998 movie The Red Violin. The score requires original compositions in the styles of five different locales and periods, all the while holding together as a single musical and theatrical thread. After the movie came out Corigliano made a six-movement suite from the material. The opening thematic statement is simple and somber with the variations reflecting styles as diverse as folk music and Paganini. The virtuosity demanded of the performer is impressive. As one would hope of a premier recording, Philippe Quint is more than up to the challenge on this work, and the others presented on this album. He effortlessly rattles off the acrobatic runs fully filling the sonic space with his instrument. On this recording he is easily the equal of Joshua Bell, who performed the material in the film.

The other Corigliano work here, Sonata for Violin and Piano, is in four movements for violin and piano. This is among Corigliano’s earliest works, written in 1963. The opening is a somewhat angular and energetic dialog between violin and piano, both vying for attention and, here, both seeming to deserve it. The second movement is a melancholy, emotional, wistful melody accompanied by a pensive piano. The third movement finally gives way to the piano for an opening declamation, and then features passages where both instruments play unaccompanied or commingled but not necessarily intertwined. Finally the fourth movement is truly virtuosic with polyrhythms and polymeters galore. This is the work of a man who wants to write a duet rather than a violin sonata with piano accompaniment. Throughout the virtuosity is there to achieve musical means, not merely to show off the musician’s ability to play a lot of notes in a short time. When the performers are up to the task the work is among the shining examples of the violin concerto. Again, the performers are suited to the task. The work is not often recorded, and this particular recording could prove to be definitive.

Aside from the two Corigliano works, there are three collections of musical “portraits” by Virgil Thomson. Each movement is either titled or subtitled with a person’s name, and one assumes is endowed with the personalities of the namesakes. These are generally speaking not the virtuosic powerhouses that the first works are, but each one is—nearly by definition—a highly personal piece where piano and violin intertwine to form a musician’s interpretation of a person’s essence. One must assume that each 1–2 minute piece exposes nationality or temperament through song style. For instance he titled some of the movements Tango Lullaby: A Portrait of Mlle. Alvarez de Toledo or Cynthia Kember: A Fanfare.

The performance of each work is solid and interesting. Each short work is given its full attention and due. So while the individual “portraits” vary in style and substance, sometimes being chamber works and other times being solo violin, sometimes being atonal and other times seeming very nearly Classical in style, each performance is exquisite.

For any lover of Corigliano or the solo violin this disc is a real find. None of these pieces are often recorded, and all of them are outstanding, both from a compositional and performance standpoint.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, September 2008

Engaging solo repertoire as The Red Violin yields up more musical delights

This is another incarnation of John Corigliano’s Red Violin music. First the film and the Chaconne for violin and orchestra derived from it (1997); then the Concerto (2003); and now the composer has extracted a set of caprices for solo violin.

These were originally written as studies and the actors, filmed playing the instrument, had to mime to them. Because of the demands of the film, reflecting the life of a violin at various times and places, the writing has a wider stylistic range than most contemporary works for solo violin.

Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) is an early piece with ingenious Stravinskian panache in the rapid writing and lyrical charm elsewhere of the kind which led to The Red Violin 35 years later. Quint and Wolfram make it sound just as impressive as Bell and Denk (Sony, 2/08).

Most of Virgil Thomson’s Portraits were for piano so it’s unusual to have three groups for violin, with and without piano. Thomson began with seven of the Eight Portraits for solo violin in 1928 and went on to produce about 150. He actually composed in front of the sitter like an artist sketching, and the results are delightfully spontaneous. There’s a “Tango Lullaby” for Mlle Alvarez de Toledo, who must have been quite a character; sketches of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, both so important in Thomson’s life; and composer colleagues like Henri Sauguet (see Virgil Thomson’s Musical Portraits by Anthony Tommasini—Pendragon Press—for full details).

Philippe Quint’s panache is stunning and this CD offers some of the most attractive music for solo violin in the entire repertoire.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, July 2008

John Corigliano is a man of many talents—composer, teacher, record producer. This enterprising disc showcases both his earlier work (the violin sonata) and a set of variations based on his score for François Girard’s 1997 film The Red Violin. Sensibly, Naxos have paired them with violin vignettes by Virgil Thomson, perhaps best known for his film scores The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River.

The Russian-born violinist Philippe Quint may not be a household name on this side of the Atlantic but he has made quite an impact in his adopted homeland. Apart from winning a slew of prestigious awards he is dedicated to performing American music. He is partnered here by the charismatic pianist William Wolfram, who made an impact of his own with a fine disc of Donizetti opera transcriptions.

Briefly, The Red Violin traces the travels of the eponymous instrument from Italy in the late 1600s to 19th-century England, China during the Cultural Revolution and finally to Canada in the 1990s. The conceit will be familiar to anyone who has read Accordion Crimes by Brokeback author Annie Proulx.

Corigliano won an Academy Award for the original score, which he has reworked as a set of five variations. From the outset it’s clear we are in the presence of a very fine fiddler. Quint produces a lovely warm tone in the elegiac opening to Variation 1, not to mention some scintillating passagework in the ensuing Con bravura. But it’s in the third variation that he really surprises, with an almost throaty sound. He seems perfectly in control at all times, especially in the quick, rhythmically precise writing towards the end of this variation. In Variation 4 he is wonderfully eloquent, too, and the instrument’s upper registers really sing. He also imbues the music with a meditative quality that is most attractive, notably in the final variation. Even in the more agitated passages he bows with great precision and bite, the engineers capturing the weight and character of sound very well indeed.

For anyone looking to sample Corigliano’s work this is an excellent place to start. His music is described as ‘neo-tonal’ but as so often the label doesn’t tell you a great deal about what to expect. Lightweight it may be but this is skilful music adroitly played. Ditto the violin sonata, where Quint is joined by Wolfram, whose first imperious entry is a sign of what’s to follow. Both soloists are warmly recorded, the violin tone nicely balanced by a weighty piano.

Wolfram proves he can play quietly and with feeling in the Andantino, in marked contrast to his jaunty Allegro. They both respond well to this meanderingly beautiful movement. But even here the music has a habit of modulating into something a little wilder before returning to its gentle wanderings. Indeed, there are times when one is reminded of Korngold’s violin concerto. But whatever the echoes it’s delectable stuff and superbly played.

The third movement—Lento—is more austere than anything we’ve heard thus far; Wolfram restrains the violin’s attempts to break free with darker more declamatory music. The tension is never fully resolved—shades of Shostakovich’s piano trios, perhaps—the movement ending in an enigmatic violin fade.

The final Allegro has a rollicking, silent-film quality that conceals writing of some subtlety and skill. Wolfram springs the rhythms with real affection, Quint shooting the musical rapids with ease. It’s a witty and engaging conclusion to a delightful work, helped by playing of rare commitment. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this performance being easily trumped.

Virgil Thomson, like his contemporary Aaron Copland, belongs to that small group of composers whose work captures the spirit of America, whether in rousing tributes to the Wild West or evocations of its landscapes and rivers. But the works recorded here are altogether more urban—sophisticated, even—dating as they do from Thomson’s years in Paris.

The Three Portraits, arranged for violin and piano by Samuel Dushkin, are charming vignettes. It’s not essential to identify the subjects, who are rendered here with obvious insight. The first is a tipsy barcarolle, the second a haughty tango, both essayed with rhythmic subtlety and an artist’s eye for defining detail. The bird-like third portrait, complete with trills, is for violin alone. Fresh, open, never sly or knowing, these pieces are little gems.

Five Ladies, written in the 1930s but only published in 1983, offers more of the same but this time without the intervention of an arranger. If anything these pieces are more focused, the writing more distinctive than before. They really are the simplest of sketches, a series of telling musical pencil strokes. The soloists echo this disarmingly simple style with playing of lightness and grace.

The Eight Portraits, written between 1928 and 1940, give Quint another chance to demonstrate his skills. At first they can seem a little dry, almost like a set of practice pieces, but Quint individualises each of them with a range of mood and colour that is most impressive. That said, the material is overstretched at times. Minor caveats aside this really is playing of a high order, self-possessed yet never self-regarding.

Such fine performances of rarely heard works are what make the American Classics series indispensable. Indeed, this is one of the most consistently satisfying projects in the entire Naxos catalogue. And while this disc doesn’t qualify as mould-breaking or profound, it’s well worth hearing.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2008

Born in New York City in 1938, John Corigliano is one of the most listener-friendly composers of present day America. He has a sizeable catalogue of works in many genre including compositions for the film industry, his score for The Red Violin winning him the Oscar for the Best Original Score of 1999. He has since visited the music on several occasions, The Red Violin Caprices for solo violin, dating from 2002, being one of the most technically demanding manifestations. Stating the theme, he then devises five variations in direct lineage of Paganini, though I guess the great virtuoso may well have found them too taxing. Calling upon the soloist for so many devises, it is, to the listener, a superb exhibition of technique. Having already heard this recording by the Russian-born, Philippe Quint, the composer describes it as ‘absolutely amazing’ which must rank among the greatest understatements of the 21st century. Back in 1963 he added to the string repertoire a Sonata for violin and piano set out in the traditional four movements, and certainly a most likeable work, the interplay between instruments creating many interesting colours. Virgil Thomson’s Eight Portraits were started before Corigliano was born, and pictures, in music, his friends and acquaintances. They are cameos, edging towards salon music, and utterly delightful. History will place Thomson as a bridge between the accepted confines of late 19th century fashion and the new order that revolutionised music over the next fifty years, though he never turned his back on tonality. The disc also contains his portraits of Five Ladies composed in 1983, and Samuel Dushkin’s arrangement for violin and piano of the original piano work Three Portraits, made in 1947. Quint’s playing is fabulous throughout, so precise in intonation and technique. He has with him the outstanding pianist, William Wolfram, who Naxos collectors will remember for his exciting Liszt recordings. I don’t like the high reverberation of the church acoustic for the Red Violin Caprices but the remaining Canadian studio tracks are excellent. The programme notes are woefully lacking in information, but this a CD you must have.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, June 2008

Naxos is also the source of the third CD in this group, one that features works for solo violin and violin and piano by John Corigliano and Virgil Thomson in the excellent American Classics series (Corigliano: The Red Violin Caprices; Naxos 8.559364); the performers are Philippe Quint and William Wolfram. The Caprices and Thomson’s Eight Portraits are for solo violin; Corigliano is also represented by his Violin Sonata from 1963 and Thomson by Three Portraits and Five Ladies. Quint is tremendous in the solo pieces, although his assorted breathing noises do become a bit annoying after a while.

Mike D. Brownell, June 2008

Violinist Philippe Quint and pianist William Wolfram deliver stunning performances track after track. Quint’s “take-no-prisoners” approach to the violin is refreshing and energizing. The Red Violin Caprices, which are filled with astoundingly difficult demands, are tossed off with incredible accuracy and ferocity. Quint is equally capable of warmth and suppleness, making him a delightfully well-rounded performer. Although Wolfram’s role on this particular album is somewhat minimal, his accompaniments are considerate and well balanced, yielding satisfying chamber music performances throughout.

J. S
The Buffalo News, May 2008

John Corigliano, The Red Violin Caprices and Violin Sonata and Virgil Thomson, Three Portraits, Five Ladies and Eight Portraits performed by violinist Philippe Quint and pianist William Wolfram (Naxos). A spectacular and brilliantly programmed disc by a spectacular 34-year-old violinist most recently renowned for being one of the platoon of string virtuosos to leave his Stradivarius in the back of a taxi. Corigliano’s music―the fiendishly difficult and extravagant neo-Paganini solo caprices from his Oscar-winning soundtrack music for “The Red Violin” and the 1963 violin-piano sonata―couldn’t be more different from Virgil Thomson’s. Corigliano is the sort of living neo-Romantic one would expect a violinist in his mid-30s to be passionate about. Altogether different is the aphoristic, witty, suave, nostalgic and charming violin music of Virgil Thomson, who always said that he had to go to Paris to write music about Kansas City. What here unites the two disparate―but enormously appealing composers―is the tremendous young violinist taking up the music’s cause. To put it mildly, modern and especially living composers (Corigliano is 70 and very much with us) can seldom count on performances as remarkable as this.

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