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.