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Otto Zykan & Unsuk Chin - Contemporary Violin Concertos

KUHR/RESCH/ZYKAN Violin Concertos -
Patricia Kopatchinskaja/various conductors

Col Legno WWE1 CD20279

A hard-line modernist CD from Vienna appealed, potentially, for a chance to catch up with Gerd Kühr, whose opera Stallerhof (Lucerne 2002) had made an indelible impression.

Alas, the best part of Kühr's new violin concerto (2006) is its beginning,
a fake tuning-up of the orchestra, which leads straight on into this super-modernist score which, to my ignorant ears, is non-music, as too is the younger Gerald Resch's Schlieren. Neither gives the violinist an opportunity to show her musicality.

They are coupled (tripled) with Da drunten im Tale (whatever that means) by Otto Zykan (1935-2006), which is real music with links to the 2nd Viennese School and a proper cadenza at the end; unusual in that before the conclusion of the whole thing the soloist is joined by two voices, unidentified and unexplained. Stemming from 2004, we are told, discouragingly, that many of the compositions in Zykan's last decade are "lost, discarded or simply undecipherable".

The notes to introduce the whole disc are totally meaningless in ordinary terms and I defy anyone to find them helpful...

I was glad to hear the three works through in the call of duty, but any recommendation of the disc is out of the question. A review from a modernist specialist would be welcome.

Unsuk Chin Rocaná & Violin Concerto

Viviane Hagner & Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano

Analekta AN 2 9944

Unsuk Chin (1961 - ) is quite else. Her 27 mins 4-movement violin concerto (2001), which won her the Grawemeyer award, is something special. It is readily accessible and intelligible, drawing its invention from the notes of the open strings, weaved into burgeoning tapestries of sound, the orchestra enhanced by a large percussion section wielded with delicacy, not power.

It is well described in Berlin reviews quoted by her publisher: " - - the music itself, which revels in Chin’s fantasy-filled orchestral soundworld with its percussion-rich colourings and chamber-like clarity. The ear is constantly beguiled, then surprised by Chin’s keen aural imagination - -". For precursors, think of Szymanowski's No 1 (a bit too cloying for me) and Prokofiev's lyrical No. 1 (Viviane Hagner is pictured playing it in Boston).

And, in stark contrast to Col Legno's for Kür etc, Analekta has a detailed and entirely helpful expository note by Habakuk Traber about the concerto's four movements; read her programme note for the premiere at http://www.boosey.com/cr/music/Violin-Concerto/15183.

For background to the British premiere (2004) of this concerto, see Martin Anderson's report in The Independent. I have listened to this beautifully balanced recording three times and endorse a San Francisco opinion "a score of enormous beauty, rhetorical force and structural ingenuity; by rights it should become a staple of the concert landscape". When may we hear it again? Surely next time Hagner returns to The Proms, where it would reach a larger audience...

An essential addition to your collection of violin concertos.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Unsuk Chin in interview about her Cello and Sheng Concertos