Einojuhani Rautavaara’s First Piano Concerto: Twentieth Century Finnish Neo-Romanticism

At moments, you can hear the ghost of Jean Sibelius emerge in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 1, completed in 1969. Rautavaara (1928-2016) was among the most significant Finnish composers to follow Sibelius. His style evolved gradually, moving from 12-tone serial modernism into Neo-Romanticism. His later works, such as the 1994 Seventh Symphony (Angel of Light), embrace a tantalizing mysticism. In his 2016 remembrance, the composer Kalevi Aho (a student of Rautavaara) writes, Einojuhani …

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New Release: RPO’s “American Rapture” Features Music of Higdon, Barber, and Harlin

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Ward Stare have released a new album of American music on the Azica label. American Rapture contains two world premiere recordings—Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto (2018) featuring the American harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, and Patrick Harlin’s Rapture (2011), an orchestral showpiece inspired by the terrifying and awe-inspiring exploration of the world’s deepest caves. In between these youthful pieces is Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, a monumental mid-twentieth century work which unfolds in a single …

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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto: An Eruption of Youthful Vitality

Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto begins with a bold announcement. It’s a striking fanfare in the horns which evokes all of the ominous power of the fateful opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. This fanfare unleashes an equally exuberant proclamation in the virtuosic solo piano, which erupts like a force of nature. Filled with audacious youthful vitality, this unstoppable sonic torrent seems to be saying, “My time has come, and nothing is going to get …

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Dvořák’s Cello Concerto: Three Great Performance Clips

Following a youthful attempt at a Cello Concerto in 1865, Antonín Dvořák believed that the instrument was ill-suited to the concerto form. “High up it sounds nasal, and low down it growls,” the composer commented. Dvořák’s attitude changed in a flash on the evening of March 9, 1894 when the New York Philharmonic premiered Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto. Herbert, remembered for frothy Viennese operettas like Babes in Toyland (1903), was on the faculty of New York’s National Conservatory of …

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New Release: Bach Violin Concertos, Shunske Sato and Il Pomo d’Oro

An outstanding new recording of J.S. Bach’s three Violin Concertos came out in October. It features Japanese-American Baroque violinist Shunske Sato and the adventurous period instrument ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, founded in 2012. Sato is currently concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society Orchestra and Concerto Köln. On the album, he is joined by Bulgarian violinist Zefira Valova for a performance of the Concerto for Two Violins. Also included is a reconstruction of the lost Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R. The …

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Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto: An Honest, Neo-Romantic Voice

I myself wrote always as I wished, and without a tremendous desire to find the latest thing possible… – Samuel Barber in a radio interview near the end of his life An unwavering and unapologetic honesty characterizes the music of American twentieth century composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). This is in contrast to the prevailing winds of the academic establishment of the time, who were interested in advancing the musical language in search …

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