Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen is perhaps best known for his skills
as an orchestral director rather than as a composer; it is a joy, therefore,
to have stumbled across this wonderful work. The Violin Concerto "Out Of
Nowhere", completed in 2009, is here given a resplendent debut by soloist
Leila Josefowicz and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Mr Salonen at
the helm. It's a fiendishly difficult piece but Ms Josefowicz hunkers down
to deliver a truly inspiring performance. She seems to have been born to play it!
The hushed celeste chords and spiky arpeggios which introduce Movement One lead
us into a bristling sonic landscape of bubbling woodwind and brooding brass.
The pervading atmospheric tension is beautifully articulated by the soloist.
In Movement Two the orchestra seems to breathe like a sleeping beast beneath
the violin's yearning search for a melodic foothold atop the tympani's faint
but steady heartbeat. The raucous rhythmic mayhem of Movement Three with its
hair raising tuttis has Ms Josefwicz plucking and sawing for all she's worth;
Movement Four, therefore, must have come as something of a relief as the work
settles down into its hauntingly lyrical conclusion. Music for a starlit night.
The inclusion of 'Nyx', a single movement composition for large orchestra,
with prominent roles for clarinet and horn section, further displays this
fine composer's richly dramatic imagination and ability to stir our spirits.
The Deutsche Grammmophon recording captures the thrilling vitality of both works.
Esa-Pekka Salonen has quietly moved from being perceived as a conductor to a conductor who can dabble quite nicely in composition to a composer of serious merit. His earlier works like "Foreign Bodies"; "Wing on Wing", Piano Concerto and "LA Variations" certainly won him many fans. These works were colourfully orchestrated and combined a love of sensuous impressionist harmonies with John Adams' post-modern minimalism. The debt Salonen owed to Adam's "Naïve and Sentimental Music" was very obvious in those works: not that that is a bad thing. Just try listening to that after hearing "Foreign Bodies".
The Violin Concerto and "Nyx" show a great deal more subtlety. One review bemoans the thinner orchestration in these two works but to me they are as rich and sensuous as the other pieces: If anything the other works tended to be a little heavy handed in comparison.
My first impression of the Violin Concerto was that this was colourfully but economically orchestrated. The first three movements contrast with each other but are rather short. The slow finale is more extended and carries the main weight of the piece. The four movements, as a result, balance very well together.
"Nyx" feels like an extension and expansion from this finale, constantly shifting but always arresting. If anything it's an even more impressive work than the Violin Concerto. These two works depend less on the driving momentum of Adam's style, carrying the listener along with shifting light and colour rather than rhythmic drive: it's quite a skill to maintain a piece that way. As a result Salonen has a clearer voice of his own and is all the better for that.
My one quibble is one that I have with many recordings of contemporary works: it's far too short. We get less than fifty minutes but DG know that we enthusiasts are prepared to pay every time. When the music is this good I'll keep paying and I won't knock a star off either.
The performances and recording are as good as the other reviewers suggest and it's always a bonus to have a composer conducting his own work: that's why he took to conducting in the first place. It's a bonus to have one who has made his name as a conductor an dhas worked in partnership with Leila Josefowicz on the Violin Concerto. You really couldn't ask for anything better.