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Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, November 2012

Here composer Corigliano draws heavily from his famous opera The Ghosts of Versailles and his even more famous third film score, The Red Violin. Sometimes it is as if Corigliano is dissecting some of his best scores and experimenting with them a bit…I…recommend it highly; I certainly listened to it more than twice so far and shall return. As happens so often recently with Naxos releases, both performances and audio quality are about as good as it gets without SACD or Blu-ray and so recommendation is easy to award. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Robert R. Reilly, January 2011

One can hardly say that John Corigliano (b. 1938) has been overlooked. He is one of the most celebrated contemporary American composers. He had big hit with his film score to The Red Violin, later utilizing the music in a number of forms. Perhaps the most successful is the Red Violin Chaconne, which he turned into a full-blown Violin Concerto, “The Red Violin,” in 2003. It is a big-boned piece that, like the Fetler, harkens back to Barber. I particularly enjoyed Corigliano’s remark that the liberty of first writing this highly romantic music for film allowed him to bypass his “censor button.” He knows how to write a great melody, and he has one in the opening movement, which he calls “a passionate romantic essay.” This theme ties together the whole concerto, which was written, as Corigliano said, “’in the great tradition’ kind of concerto” in memory of his violinist father, who was the concert master of the New York Philharmonic. The sizable concerto is accompanied, on Naxos (8.559671), by the fantastic time machine Phantasmagoria - Suite from “the Ghosts of Versailles” (2000), Corigliano’s hit opera written for the Met. Violinist Michael Ludwig is dazzling in the concerto, and JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play with requisite passion and care throughout.

Bill Gowen
Daily Herald (IL), January 2011

The New York-based Corigliano, former composer-in-residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has built an impressive catalog of orchestral works, along with the opera “The Ghosts of Versailles,” from which “Phantasmagoria” is derived. He also wrote the score for the film “The Red Violin,” which he later adapted into the excellent concerto featured on this recording.

David Hurwitz, September 2010

It says something good about our contemporary musical life that major works such as these are available in multiple recordings. This is a wonderfully smart coupling: two major works both based on theatrical scores. Phantasmagoria comes from the opera The Ghosts of Versailles, while the “Red Violin” Concerto has its origins in the film of the same name. The concerto already has been recorded, splendidly, by Joshua Bell and Marin Alsop for Sony Classical, but its coupling, Corigliano’s Violin Sonata, while apt for the composer’s fans, isn’t as much fun as this one. Corigliano is, first and foremost, a splendid writer for the orchestra.

Furthermore, Michael Ludwig’s solo work certainly compares favorably to Bell’s. He’s completely at home in the work’s atrocious technical demands, and in the whirlwind scherzo and the rustic finale he even brings an extra measure of pyrotechnical dazzle. JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalo players also put on a virtuosic display, clearly relishing the many opportunities that Corigliano gives them to strut their stuff. Phantasmagoria truly is, well, phantasmagorical. The whole production is engineered with vivid but unobtrusive naturalness. A total winner.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, September 2010

If John Corigliano (b. 1938) isn’t already one of the deans of American music, he should be. His awards and prizes are of the extra-special variety: an Academy Award for his score to the film The Red Violin, a Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 2, and a Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Mr Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan, and that’s just to name three.

Likewise, if there were an official category for dean of American conductors, JoAnn Falletta would surely deserve election to it. Her work with the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony orchestras has been transformative for both of those institutions, and her recordings with those two ensembles as well as many others both here and abroad for Naxos, Albany, Koch, and other labels have in several cases been groundbreaking in terms of repertoire and ear-opening in terms of performance.

If you’ve never seen the 1998 Canadian film The Red Violin, written by Don McKellar and François Girard and directed by Girard, you really should rent or buy it on DVD. Three years in the making, it’s a moving story inspired by a Stradivarius violin, the “Red Mendelssohn” of 1721, in which the violin is the main character. Its fate is followed from country to country, continent to continent, and century to century over a period of 300 years as it changes owners and falls into the hands of one after another, some who cherish it for the right reasons—their love of music—others who covet it for the wrong reasons—its monetary value—and still others who neglect and abuse it. The script’s writers were intent on insuring historical accuracy and meticulousness of detail.

John Corigliano composed the score, which turned out to be a masterpiece in its own right. Basing his score on a chaconne chord sequence, which represents the idea of recurrent episodes that intersect and in the end come together, in counterpoint to a theme representing Anna, the violin maker’s doomed wife, Corigliano wrote a series of études for violin, each in a style appropriate to its period. The violinist on the soundtrack is Joshua Bell.

Then, in 1997, with work on the score already completed while shooting on the film continued, Corigliano composed a new, 17-minute piece he called The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra based on the chaconne progression he’d written for the film. This time Bell appeared in the flesh to give the world premiere performance of the Chaconne with Robert Spano conducting the San Francisco Symphony in the fall of that year. Bell subsequently recorded the work in London with Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Philharmonia Orchestra. The piece has turned out to be quite popular, being taken up on record by a number of other violinists, including Chloë Hanslip with Leonard Slatkin and the Royal Philharmonic, and in a transcription for violin and piano by Maria Bachmann with Jon Kilbonoff, and Ida Bieler with Nina Tichman.

But Corigliano wasn’t done with his Chaconne. Not wishing it to remain a stand-alone piece like Chausson’s Poème, Ravel’s Tzigane, or Beethoven’s Romances, he decided to write three new movements, using the Chaconne as the first movement of a substantive, nearly 40-minute-long violin concerto. And that is what we have here on this disc. It too, and once again by Bell, was previously recorded, this time in 2006 with Marin Alsop directing the Baltimore Symphony, which gets us fairly close to home with this new recording by Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic with violinist Michael Ludwig.

Perhaps it should be mentioned that there was to be yet another spinoff from Corigliano’s Chaconne, a theme and variations for solo violin, titled The Red Violin Caprices...There’s no question but that with the “Red Violin” Concerto, Corigliano has made a significant contribution to the 20th-century violin concerto repertoire. He is quoted as saying that he wanted to write a work in the grand romantic tradition that his father, John Sr., longtime concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, would have loved to play.

Michael Ludwig has teamed up for a couple of winning discs with JoAnn Falletta before. In Fanfare 32:1, I raved about their recording of Dohnányi’s violin concertos on Naxos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra [8.570833] the time, Strad magazine said of Ludwig that he possesses “effortless, envy-provoking technique…sweet tone, brilliant expression, and grand style.” This Corigliano program, recorded a year later in 2008, confirms previous critical opinion. The violin Ludwig plays, neither a Strad nor varnished with blood, is an 18th-century Lorenzo Storioni, from which the violinist draws a tone that is both liquid and penetrating. One could argue that Corigliano’s concerto is owned by Bell, for he has been more closely associated with it and more directly involved with the composer than Ludwig, or, for that matter, anyone else. Still, much as I appreciate Bell’s playing in general, I feel there are moments in this piece where he applies the schmaltz a little too thickly. Ludwig resists that temptation, and I think the concerto emerges the better for it.

From the opening of Corigliano’s Phantasmagoria, a suite extracted from the composer’s largely successful opera The Ghosts of Versailles, you’d never guess that this creepy, slithery music sets the stage for what is essentially a “comedy.” The plot, which is too involved and complex to elaborate on here, is a spoof on the afterlife of the royals deposed by the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette, royally roiled over having lost her head, summons the spirit of Beaumarchais, whereupon what ensues is a play within a play that commingles elements of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with theater of the absurd. The musical score is a send-up of the world of opera in general, with easily recognizable parodies of just about every opera from Rossini to Wagner.

As a work detached from its literary references and stage setting, Phantasmagoria becomes a virtuoso showpiece for orchestra. The piece seems to divide into two approximately equal halves. Much of the first half is busy, bustling, noisy, and nutty; the second half, from 13:03 to the end, is calmer, more lyrical, and takes on the feeling of fate accepted, which it is in the opera as Marie is beheaded a second time and reunited with Beaumarchais in Paradise.

Naxos is not claiming a recording premiere for Phantasmagoria, which is wise, for though no other versions are currently listed at ArkivMusic, there is another one on Ondine with the Tampere Philharmonic led by Eri Klas conducting, which I found at cduniverse. I haven’t heard it, but I don’t have to in order to tell you that JoAnn Falletta with her Buffalo Philharmonic forces has once again hit the jackpot, both with Phantasmagoria and especially with the Violin Concerto, which, as played by Ludwig, deserves at least equal billing beside Bell. Strongly recommended.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, September 2010

An opera suite that calls on Mozart and a concerto drawn from a film soundtrack

This further all-Corigliano CD from the Buffalo Philharmonic under JoAnn Falletta offers the suite from his opera The Ghosts of Versailles, a rare commission from the Met in 1991, and a second recording of the Violin Concerto. In the Suite there’s music for the ghosts, including the playwright Beaumarchais and Marie Antoinette; then there are the stage characters of Figaro, Susanna, and the Count and Countess from Beaumarchais and Mozart; and finally the reality of the French Revolution. These distinctions can hardly bother the listener who hears a sequence of pastiche styles and some varied orchestral textures, especially luxuriant in the final slow music.

The Violin Concerto is based on Corigliano’s music for François Girard’s film The Red Violin, which gained Corigliano an Oscar. The violinist in the film was Joshua Bell and he gave the premiere of the resulting concerto with the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop in 2003: their recording followed (Sony, 2/08; Corigliano also drew The Red Violin: Chaconne and The Red Violin Caprices from the film music—Naxos, 10/06, 9/08). Michael Ludwig takes slightly longer than Bell in the extended first movement and lacks his finesse but he has no shortage of the pyrotechnics demanded in the Pianissimo Scherzo and Accelerando Finale.

© Patric Standford
Music & Vision, August 2010

‘…should not fail to entertain…’

Very soon after he was asked to provide the signature violin solos for François Girard’s film The Red Violin in 1997—the story of the life of a violin over three centuries—Corigliano incorporated the material into a Chaconne for violin and orchestra for Joshua Bell who had played the solos in the film. That however presented a programming predicament. Single movement works (the composer sites Ravel’s Tzigane, Chausson’s Poeme and the Beethoven Romances) hardly merit a soloist’s guest appearance, but a complete concerto might. A further three movements completed the work over the next few years for its first performance by Joshua Bell in September 2003. The opening Chaconne grew into a formidable seventeen-minute movement to become the substantial first of four, powerful, haunting and romantic.

There followed a brief fleeting Pianissimo Scherzo and a dark Andante, an intense recitative that opens out into a tender aria.

The finale is full of vigour, punctuating a recall of the opening broad romanticism with aggressive percussive brilliance.

On this recording Michael Ludwig gives an impressive performance, supported by an incisive Buffolo Philharmonic, directed by JoAnn Falletta. Phantasmagoria is the Suite from Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles, a huge work first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, and existing in reduced orchestra versions (one 1995 for the Hanover Staatsoper, another last year for the Met). The Suite compresses the action into twenty-two minutes, preserving the three levels: the ghosts of Beaumarchais and Marie Antoinette; the stage on which the dramas were realised; and the historical reality of the French Revolution. Quotations of Mozart, Rossini and others haunt the texture, from the eerie sounds with which it begins to the chaotic hilarity within.

This is music that should not fail to entertain, and provide a challenge for those who enjoy finding quotes!

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, August 2010

Mining your back catalogue for material for new works has a long and illustrious history. Every composer from Bach to Elgar has quarried their earlier works to great effect. But I would speculate that for John Corigliano this revisiting seems to engage a greater emotional function than simply exploiting usable music. The act of homage extends to the motivation behind the work. So, although musically very different the two works presented here are able to be seen as acts of homage and remembrance on multiple levels. That this seems to be a pervasive trait, almost imperative, in Corigliano’s work is borne out by his remarkable Symphony No.1 in part subtitled ‘Of Rage and Remembrance’ and his beautiful early choral setting of Dylan Thomas Fern Hill which is a nostalgic paean to childhood.

Neither work on this disc is receiving a first recording and I have not heard any of the competing versions—with a single exception which I will come to later. The disc opens with the extended suite Phantasmagoria. This can bee seen as a kind of double-level ‘revisit’. The musical material is drawn from Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles written in 2000. A key to the structure of the opera is its simultaneous functioning on three levels of reality involving historical characters from 18th Century France, literary/operatic characters from the same period, and the gory reality of the French Revolution. Corigliano delights in weaving into the musical texture fractured musical quotes identifying characters from Mozart and Rossini operas and apparently even a Wagnerian theme too. Not having seen the opera it is hard to know how the spirit of the stage-work has been carried over into the orchestral suite. John Corigliano contributes the very interesting liner-notes and he points out the musical sources from the opera for the various sections of the suite. However, to the listener new to the work such as myself, it is by definition impossible to recognise themes in that way. Instead you have an impression of the work as a whole. Certainly, the fragmentary, kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory quality of the music does create a wonderfully atmospheric sense of colliding realities. The use of very specific melodic ‘hooks’ is always somewhat controversial—as a listener you hear the sign but are left speculating over its meaning. Perhaps in the staged opera they accompany one of the levels of reality mentioned earlier so their function is motivic. Here in the suite one admires the way they are woven into the musical fabric without quite knowing why! Corigliano writes virtuosic and brilliantly complex passages but in both works I feel his real musical strengths lie in his lyrical reflective writing. The ethereal gently phasing opening is beautiful in its other-worldly mystery. I’m not over enamoured of the technical aspect of the recording as a whole. Not that it is in any way bad but simply short on atmosphere for a disc where that quality defines most of the music. Too often I find I am hearing individual instrumental lines rather than a resultant orchestral colour which is surely as the composer intended. As a guide to how Corigliano achieves his orchestral effects this is very helpful but it makes it hard for the players to create as much of a magical mood as this music contains. I do not recognise the names of the producer/editor and engineer here as Naxos ‘regulars’. Clearly they have opted for an up-close and personal style; personally I prefer the minimalist ‘best seat in the stalls’ approach.

My observations about this carry forward into the concerto. Corigliano has revisited his score for the film ‘The Red Violin’ on numerous occasions. The completist collector can add to the original soundtrack, The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra; The Red Violin—Suite for Violin and Orchestra; The Red Violin Caprices for Solo Violin;and the Concerto for Violin & Orchestra ‘The Red Violin’ which is recorded here. The latter includes the previously mentioned Chaconne as its first and longest movement. Clearly something about the music, or topic or associations here fascinates Corigliano. He writes in the liner about memories—we’re on that remembrance path again—of hearing his father John Corigliano Snr, in his capacity as famed leader/concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, practising concertos at home. He movingly writes of his hope to write a “piece my father would love to play”. Well, it’s a very fine work indeed and one I am sure the elder Corigliano would relish tackling even if I suspect he would raise the occasional eyebrow at the ferocity and complexity of the solo writing. The expansion of the opening Chaconne into a four movement full-blown concerto is an exercise in simple pragmatism. The stand-alone movement, at seventeen minutes requiring a large orchestra and significant rehearsal, is commercially hard to programme; a thirty-nine minute concerto much easier. Not just in length this is by far the more important and weightier work on the disc. The suite is just that—an interesting chip off a bigger block. The concerto revisits earlier material but with dramatically more significant musical results.

The soloist here is Buffalo Philharmonic’s own concertmaster—again you can’t help but think that Corigliano Snr. Would have approved—Michael Ludwig. He made a very powerful impression with his recording of the two Dohnanyi Violin Concertoson Naxos again conducted by JoAnn Falletta [8.570833]. That they have a good rapport is clear here with a performance full of fire and passion. As far as the Chaconne is concerned Naxos comes into competition with themselves. Chloe Hanslip recorded this as a companion to the Adams Violin Concerto conducted by Leonard Slatkin and the RPO [8.559302]. On an already stunning disc the Chaconne is the standout performance and good though Ludwig and Falletta are Hanslip and Slatkin are finer. In part this is again due to the recording. Try the very opening of the work—track 2. In Buffalo, Ludwig’s violin is close and then the woodwinds rising skirls do not flow together and mingle with the harp and percussion—each line remains resolutely independent. Although it does not say as much I am sure I heard the odd extraneous audience noise so I assume this ‘live’ recording accounts for the close-miked nature of the sound; some players really are sitting in your lap particularly when listened to on headphones. Conversely the violin sections sound relatively recessed although this might be a kind of aural illusion caused by the proximity of the wind and brass. Hanslip and Slatkin in the hands of master producer Tim Handley and engineer Mike Hatch recorded at Abbey Road Studio 1—create far more instant atmosphere yet later in the movement percussion and brass blaze with glorious body and power. It’s not that the Buffalo engineering is bad—not at all—the other version is simply better. And at the very highest level the same has to be said of Ludwig. He plays the work throughout extremely well—it is only when a direct side by side comparison with Hanslip is made is that you realise she has that tiny virtuosic edge that allows her playing to have an extra degree of lyrical freedom and ease. I come back to my instinctive sense that it is this quasi-vocal lyricism that lies at the heart of Corigliano’s music—try from around 3:30 into the opening movement, to my ear Hanslip is gentler, sweeter, more nostalgic—a wonderful passage. The second movement Pianissimo Scherzo suffers most from the unatmospheric recording. In the liner Corigliano writes that “the dynamics are soft, but the action are wild and colourful”. Listened to at the same levels as the first movement little of the playing registers as truly quiet instead the orchestration comes across as rather heavy. In this performance this was the movement that made the least impression. The third movement Andante Flautando is simply gorgeous from beginning to end—romantic music in modern guise. There is real skill in the way Corigliano has grafted onto the totally viable first movement three further movements that in no way feel like afterthoughts or addenda. The fourth movement Accelerando Finale balances the Chaconne well again using multi-layered instrumental groups phasing in and out with each other to create really exciting orchestral timbres. Throughout the concerto Ludwig dispatches the many furious passages of running 16th notes / semiquavers with energetic ease—this is where he is at his best. Corigliano helps bind the work together by bringing back the chordal progression of the chaconne towards the end—am I alone in hearing echoes of the Peter Grimes’ Passacaglia here?

The whole concerto as well as the original soundtrack has been recorded by Joshua Bell but I have not heard them. The Buffalo Philharmonic plays throughout with confident assurance under JoAnn Falletta’s baton. Assuming these are live performances ensemble and accuracy in these highly complex scores is excellent. In the spirit of even-handed fairness I should say I have read reviews of this disc elsewhere which make a point of praising the engineering reckoning it to be of award-winning standard. I cannot share that view but as with so many aspects of music; it is all a matter of taste. The Concerto is a very impressive work and one written with a great deal of care and love by John Corigliano—a wonderful tribute to his father. There seems to be a run of very fine contemporary violin concertos at the moment...this Corigliano Concerto is right up there and hopefully its appearance on the Naxos with the benefits of distribution and affordability that brings will ensure many more music-lovers will get to hear this powerful and compelling work.

James Manheim, July 2010

American composer John Corigliano pleases crowds with his accessible orchestral scores, but neo-Romantic is not quite the right word for him. Corigliano’s music is historically oriented rather than nostalgic, and in his capacity to draw a variety of resonances from styles and motifs of the past he might almost be thought of as an American Dmitry Shostakovich. This release features two compositions drawn from dramatic presentations, and both of them, expertly adapted to a purely orchestral format, show every sign of becoming repertory standards. Both allow the members of a large orchestra to display their talents, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Michael Ludwig, quite nicely recorded in the orchestra’s own Kleinhans Music Hall, step up to the occasion with technically spot-on yet sweeping performances under conductor JoAnn Falletta. Hear the banging effect executed by the violins in the fourth movement of the Violin Concerto “The Red Violin” (track 5), one of Corigliano’s most-performed works in its various guises. The concerto is an expansion of the Chaconne for violin and orchestra, which in turn distilled elements from Corigliano’s score for the film of the same name. The opening chaconne is polyphonic in the sense in which literary critics employ the word, with distinct narratives set in different historical eras (through which the violin itself travels in the film) occurring sequentially. Phantasmagoria is adapted from Corigliano’s opera Ghosts of Versailles; it contains various musical quotations, and the orchestra sets the right dreamlike mood to bring out the effect of these. There are other choices for these contemporary American classics, but this is a good one, with the elusive quality of rediscovering the excitement of symphonic music that has endeared Corigliano to audiences in the U.S. and beyond.

The Strad, July 2010

This disc plunges you with carefree abandon into the highly coloured and expressive world of Corigliano. After the expertly performed suite from the composer’s opera

The Ghosts of Versailles comes the meat of the recording, the Violin Concerto, based on Corigliano’s 1998 score for the film The Red Violin. The work is structurally strange, retaining the feeling of having been stitched together,with three short movements attempting to balance a long first one. It has moments of exquisitely scored neo-Romantic bliss, particularly in the opening Chaconne, with touches of Sibelius in the sweeping violin themes and explosive cadenzas. Michael Ludwig gives a suitably virtuosic performance, showing technical excellence in the wild, scampering scherzo and the breakneck finale, but he is also eminently convincing in his approach to the work’s piecemeal architecture, maintaining the drive and relaxing into the big themes as if they grow organically from the texture. JoAnn Falletta is adept, too, at keeping a tight rein on the work’s brilliant colourations and vast orchestral forces, recorded in crystal-clear detail. But for all its thoroughly enjoyable quasi-Romantic aspirations, it’s still an oddly unsatisfying piece, beautifully wrought but slightly misshapen.

Norman Lebrecht
Dilettante, June 2010

Film scores do not on the whole make good concert pieces, even when music is the subject of the movie. I have heard this concerto played on record by Joshua Bell, Chloe Hanslip and I Musici of Montreal without being gripped. Michael Ludwig, though, brings something extra to this performance. For a start, there is nothing slushy or movie-sentimental about his playing, which is hot, sharp and close to the edge. These qualities drive the narrative in a way that lets you forget it was once yoked to a dumb story. The Buffalo Philharmonic play like major-leaguers and JoAnn Falletta keeps it tight. The filler is a suite from Corigiliano’s Met opera, The Ghosts of Versailles. © 2010 Dilettante

Gapplegate Music Review, June 2010

Composer John Corigliano is a musical mind, as it were, so inventive and lyrically endowed that listening to his best work transcends period and style. One forgets to gauge the music in the context of our current century and rather loses oneself in the sheer delight of his mastery. That, at least, is what happens to me when I listen.

His Violin Concerto, The Red Violin, is a case in point. This is the concert-concerto re-composition of the soundtrack Corigliano wrote for the rather wonderful movie of the same name. It follows the fate of a most singular violin and its owners over a period of several hundred years. Given the period of time represented it is only natural that Corigliano’s music has a looking-backwards-over-time quality, a feeling of time lost (Proustian?) but regained in the telling of the story. This is modern music that is musically expressive first and modern only in its secondary sense.

The main, and most formidable movement of the work is in the form of a chaconne, a series of chords that center the music and provide a framework to the unforgettably evocative melodizing. It’s all in the form of a bravura violin concerto that recapitulates the tradition from Mozart to Berg (in fact Berg’s concerto has a certain resonance with Corigliano’s) without sounding as if it were derived from any particular moment in that history. In short Corigliano’s exceptional, naturally fecund compositional brilliance and his complete internalization of the grand tradition leads to music that transmits a great beauty, mystery and passion, complete within itself. There are references, but it is not assuredly a work of citations and footnotes. It is organic completeness…marvelous Corigliano music.

There is a new version just out with Michael Ludwig taking on the solo part and JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic (Naxos 8.559671). It is hard to top the original version with Joshua Bell. But this version does quite well for itself. Ludwig gives a finely detailed rendering of the solo part without forgetting the romantic passion so much a part of the piece. Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic bring out the sensuous and mysterious sides of the work in fine fashion. The performance has its own coherence and validity. My take would be to get this version AND the one with Joshua Bell. If you are on a budget, this one at Naxos prices will serve you quite well.

It has as a nice bonus the Phantasmagoria Suite from Corigliano’s quite successful opera “The Ghosts of Versailles.” In essence this suite has a kind of fascinating pastiche quality, with quotations from classic opera, snatches of Rossini, Mozart and Wagner incorporated into a masterful orchestral tour de force that reflects the opera in a kind of instrumental microcosm. It is very enjoyable and very much an inimitable product of Corigliano’s eloquent pen.

Corigliano’s music impresses without the appearance of an intense striving for novelty. It appeals to those that may not like modern music, and too those that do. That’s quite an achievement. This recording is a great place to experience his extraordinarily attractive music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

John Corigliano recalls listening to violin concertos from his youngest years, his father being the long-time leader and soloist of the New York Philharmonic. ‘It was for my first love, the violin,’ writes the composer of a concerto conceived ‘in the great tradition’. Derived from film music that he composed for The Red Violin, the story followed  the celebrated violin through three centuries, the instrument eventually becoming haunted. Though modern in concept. it is full of the big gestures used in famous concertos, with the obligatory virtuoso cadenza in a first movement that is shaped as an extended Chaconne. A wispy scherzo; a ‘slow’ movement that changes pulse around a gently rocking rhythm, and a high-octane finale full of technical brilliance. It is coupled with another haunted score in Phantasmagoria taken from his opera, The Ghosts of Versailles. Often pasticcio in its use of fragments from composers of yesteryear used to create the opera’s story of eighteenth century France. It is spooky and full of dynamic extremes—you will get blown away if you take the volume to a normal listening level for the quiet opening bars. Those passages apart, the score is a typical Corigliano product, the readily accessible melodies and ear-catching rhythms are all there for our enjoyment. From the accompanying photos the recording was obviously made in the presence of the composer, the American violinist, Michael Ludwig, dealing admirable with every challenge Corigliano presents. He plays a wonderful Guarneri instrument that could almost be the film’s three-hundred-year-old instrument. I have total admiration for JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, for they are surely America’s finest ambassadors of the nation’s music. The engineering alone should be receiving for a few awards.

Steven A. Kennedy
Film Score Monthly, June 2010

Naxos continues their fine series of Corigliano recordings with this entry featuring what is becoming one of the composer’s more popular works, the violin concerto based on his score for The Red Violin. The Buffalo Philharmonic in turn continues an impressive string of releases under music director JoAnn Falletta, which included an earlier disc of Corigliano’s music. That Grammy-winning CD featured music derived from the composer’s first film score, Altered States, and an odd setting of texts by Bob Dylan.

The first work on this disc is based on music from Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles. A version of what is now Phantasmagoria was premiered as a work written for Yo-Yo Ma (and performed by him, with Emanuel Ax, in its solo setting) on a Sony release that’s now a decade old. The Ondine label premiered this orchestral setting about five years ago. The spectral quality of the earlier moments of this work feature clusters and sliding harmonics reminiscent of Altered States. The work has three main structural segments that move from ghostly atonality, to quotations, to contemporary, post-romanticism. At its core, Phantasmagoria is one of those “musician’s” pieces that create a sense of fun in the discovery of the various styles, thematic quotes and inferences. It is a work that will grow on the listener, and is far more impressive in its orchestral guise, as it is rendered here.

Though it has been seven years since Corigliano’s violin concerto based on his score for The Red Violin appeared, its premiere on Sony featuring Joshua Bell (who performed the music in the film as well) is evidently now available only as part of a larger collection—though copies of the single disc must surely exist. The original film score release featured a “bonus” work cast in the form of a chaconne, which now makes up the concerto’s first movement. The present interpretation by Michael Ludwig holds fairly close to Bell’s performance timings. The rendition here is fascinatingly detailed, with clearly defined solo wind and brass lines in a drier acoustic. Falletta lets the music flow naturally, lending a freer quality. Ludwig gets tremendous background support and gives an impassioned performance with a bit more interpretive sliding, but less intense articulations than in Bell’s version.

Ludwig approaches this as a solo concerto, taking the thematic content within the context of the present work and allowing his interpretation to grow out the piece itself, and not out of its precursors. This makes his “Chaconne” sound a lot more like a new 21st century concerto, with the film’s themes feeling like quotations. His performance of the first movement is perhaps not as “perfect” as Bell’s, but he brings to the work a deeper sense of dramatic intensity that is matched by Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic. The second movement scherzo is superbly realized as well, and the third movement gives a sense of Ludwig’s skills with more lyrical passages.

Overall, this is a great introduction to Corigliano’s orchestral concert music. Falletta’s guidance helps show off the amazing musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic as more than just another regional orchestra. Ludwig’s great performance is the mark of a mature artist interested in performing this piece as a solo concert work on its own terms, rather than simply mimicking other recordings.

This album is easily recommendable even to those who have grown accustomed to Bell’s performance, as this alternate approach is precisely what is needed to keep Corigliano’s work from becoming a sterile, recorded monument.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, May 2010

John Corigliano, Phantasmagoria: Suite from “The Ghosts of Versailles”; Violin Concerto “The Red Violin,” Michael Ludwig, violin, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor (Naxos). These performances are a composite drawn from a weekend of concerts the BPO gave in October 2008. And part of the fun of listening is imagining that scene. The music was unpredictable, often weird. Corigliano was on stage in a leather jacket explaining it all. And there were murmurs in the audience. “Phantasmagoria” is a kind of tone poem drawn from “The Ghosts of Versailles,” Corigliano’s opera about Marie Antoinette and the fictional opera hero Figaro. Initially disorienting, full of odd but alluring orchestral effects, the music invites you to catch its shadows of Mozart and Rossini. The BPO seems to revel in its offbeat qualities. The “Red Violin” Concerto will grab the listener more—you have those violin tones to hold on to, and people who loved the movie will find themselves transported back. To top things off, Ludwig was playing a mellifluous Stradivarius. There is a haunting rightness in that, because the movie was about a violin’s journey through the centuries. This music can be strenuous to listen to, and I wonder how future generations will see it…

Cinemusical, May 2010

Naxos continues their fine series of Corigliano recordings with this entry featuring what is becoming one of the composer’s more popularized works, the violin concerto “based” on The Red Violin. The Buffalo Philharmonic continues there impressive string of releases under music director JoAnn Falletta which included an earlier release of the composer’s music. That Grammy-winning disc featured music derived from the composer’s first film score, Altered States, and an odd setting of texts by Bob Dylan.

The first work on the disc is based on music from Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles. A version of what is now Phantasmagoria premiered as a work written for Yo-Yo Ma and performed by him with Emanuel Ax in its solo setting on a Sony release now a decade old. The Ondine label premiered this orchestral setting about five years ago and we have Naxos to thank for finding a way to bring this work to more people at their reduced price. The spectal quality of the earlier moments of this work feature clusters and sliding harmonics, reminiscent of Corigliano’s Altered States score. It takes a few minutes for this suite to unfold before the varieties of musical quotations and borrowings begin to appear. The work has three main structural segments that move from ghostly atonal writing, to quotation music, to contemporary orchestral harmonic writing with a tendency toward more post-romantic qualities.

At its core, Phantasmagoria is one of those “musician’s” pieces that tends to create a sense of fun in the discovery of the various styles, thematic quotes or inferences, or harmonies. Things eventually take off in a more delightfully fun way which allows the orchestral sections and soloists to shine. As such, the piece tenuously holds its own between serious and pops-like musical space. It is a work that will grow on the listener and is far more impressive here in its orchestral guise, a wise move by the composer, in what is surely the finest performance it will receive. The final moments are exquisitely realized by the orchestra that manage to recall the denser light textures of the work’s opening.

Though it has been seven years since Corigliano’s violin concerto based on his score for The Red Violin appeared, its premiere on Sony featuring Joshua Bell (who performed the music in the film as well) is evidently only part of a larger collection, though copies of the single disc must surely exist. The original film score release featured an adaption “bonus” work cast in the form of a Chaconne which now makes up the concerto’s first movement. The present interpretation by Michael Ludwig holds fairly close to Bell’s performance timings. The performance here is fascinatingly detailed with clearly-defined solo wind and brass lines in a drier acoustic. Falletta seems to let the music flow naturally lending it a freer quality that one tends to expect when a new piece has had some distance between the present and its first appearance. Ludwig gets tremendous background support and gives a fairly impassioned performance that features a bit more interpretive sliding to reach higher pitch values and which at times features attacks and articulation that are less intense then Bell’s approach. Ludwig approaches this work as a solo concerto taking the thematic content within the context of the present work and allowing his interpretation to grow out the piece itself and not its precursors. This makes his “Chaconne” sound a lot more like a new twenty-first century concerto with the film’s themes feeling like quotation music. His performance of the first movement is perhaps not as “perfect” as Bell’s but somehow he manages to bring to the work a deeper sense of dramatic intensity that is matched by Falletta’s support with the Buffalo players who really shine throughout the entire performance. The second movement scherzo is superbly realized by soloist and orchestra that continues to build on what is a more mature performance overall that allows things to unfold in such seeming effortlessness. The third movement really gives us a sense of Ludwig’s lyrical expressive musicality and it is a gorgeously realized performance captured here.

Overall this is a perfect introduction to Corigliano’s orchestral concert music. Falletta’s shaping of orchestral textures and tempi allow her to show off the amazing musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic to be more than just another regional orchestra. Ludwig’s performance is equally valid and seems to relax a bit more as the work progresses. It is the performance of a mature artist interested in performing this piece as a solo concert work on its own terms rather than simply mimicking the work’s very first recording. The result is a valid interpretation that works its way through the tension between romantically-conceived themes and contemporary orchestral writing. It might even open the door for others to consider picking up the work as well…

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group