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ROCHBERG Violin Concerto
(1974 rev. 2001 by Christopher Lyndon-Gee in collaboration with the Composer)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved with Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Christopher Lyndon-Gee

Part One:
Introduction: Allegro, ma un poco agitato e rubato motto
Intermezzo A: Moderato - Allegro assai - Tempo rigoroso - Precipitoso (attacca) Fantasia: Adagio
Part Two:
Intermezzo B: Andante teneramente, calmato - Scherzoso - Adagio ­
AlIa marcia, feroce, wild - Adagio, a piacere - Andante teneramente
Epilogue: Quasi mesto, sostenuto - Allegro, ma un poco agitato e rubato ­ Allegro moderato - Poco adagio, sostenuto - Adagio motto e sereno

Naxos American Classics 8.559129 [52 mins; April 2002]

George ROCHBERG (b. 1918) wrote his violin concerto in 1974 and it had a great success with Isaac Stern, who unfortunately persuaded the composer to cut it by fourteen minutes for the comfort of audiences and his own. This version had bewildered Peter Sheppard Skaerved, and he welcomed the reconstruction of the original for its 'restoration of structural unity and a coherence which had eluded me in the past'. The story, told in detail by Christopher Lyndon-Gee and Peter Sheppard Skaerved, is saddening - it reminds one of Bruckner's acceptance of revisions, later rejected in favour of original versions. (Stern's recording is now unavailable and I do not know if the concerto ever crossed the Atlantic, or whether any of Isaac Stern's performances were in UK?)

In two huge parts, with several cadenzas on the way, it is demanding for technique and endurance. I have not been equally impressed with a first hearing of a major violin concerto of the period since first hearing Oistrakh play Shostakovich's first. And I think it is of comparable calibre, having played it through on receipt and again, later that day, with my wife. There is a great deal of near repetition, admittedly, but I understand Peter Sheppard Skaerved (who has worked with the composer) finding the new/old version easier to learn, with its 'sense of prolepsis (!) and natural ebb and flow - - revealing intimacy at the heart of this monumental work'.

Rochberg is a complex composer, his music deceptively approachable and eschewing 'originality' at all costs; instead embracing 'all manner of opposites, contradictions, paradoxes: the past with the present, tonality with atonality'.

The performance, recorded over three days in the Saarlandischer Rundfunk studios in Saarbrücken, is superb, creating a warm acoustic environment around Peter Sheppard Skaerved's quite remarkable account of the solo part; beautiful tone, immaculate intonation, and no sense of strain. I hope he will soon be given an opportunity to play it in public here; it would go down well in the Proms?

I recommend this concerto recording, another Naxos bargain with comprehensive notes - small print but legible with strong black on white - as an exciting introduction to a composer who has been largely overlooked in UK (I remember a string quartet which sounded like the one Mahler hadn't composed); a famous American who, now in his late eighties, merits reappraisal in Europe.

Black Sounds
Transcendental Variations (1975)
Symphony No. 5 (1985)
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee

A valuable earlier recording in this series illustrates Rochberg's compositional journey.

Black Sounds,
recomposed from a piece for winds, piano andtwelve percussion, harks back to Varese (of whom Rochberg was an admirer and friend) in its astringency.

I first encountered Rochberg in a quartet (probably the 3rd) which sounded like one that Mahler might have written; the Transcendental Variations for string orchestra is derived from that work, diatonic but not simplistic or minimalist. Beautiful music, a latter-day Metamorphosen? I loved it.

The symphony too has pervasive echoes of Mahler's valedictory slow music in his 9th and Song of the Earth, but Rochberg is no plagiarist. It alternates vigorous Developments between three contemplative Episodes, a seven-section single movement framed by a Statement and Finale. A satisfying half-hour construction and the CD a recommended companion to Peter Sheppard Skaerved's reconstructed original version of the Violin Concerto. At £5 each, you could afford to buy them both and treat yourself to a thought-provoking and rewarding couple of hours of music.

A new book is promised later this year: The Aesthetics of Survival : A Composer's View of Twentieth-Century Music by George Rochberg

Peter Sheppard Skaerved has also recorded George Rochberg's monumental Caprice Variations on the most famous of Paganini's Caprices (51 variations, 90 minutes, Metier MSV CD92065)

© Peter Grahame Woolf