Let me begin with a confession. The Brahms Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra is not my favorite Brahms concerto. Think about it. All his other concertos and certainly the symphonies get many live performances. Not so with this double concerto. Nonetheless it pretty much has served as THE model for this particular configuration of multiple soloist concerto. That said we find ourselves confronted by this really delightful Sony release which effectively contains possibly the three finest examples of this genre (though it would be nice to include Lou Harrison’s double concerto).
The disc opens with a single movement concerto by the prolific German composer Wolfgang Rihm (1952- ). This busy piece seems to be basically post-romantic in its harmonic language and more like a concerto grosso in terms of the more embedded solo materials. It is a tour de force for both orchestra and soloists. The classic three movement concerto format is abandoned in favor of one twenty minute allegro which contains a very large and interesting world of musical ideas. Yes, there are some harsher sounding harmonies but this assertive music brings the listener along with its rush of ideas.
Next is the Brahms Concerto. Now I am a Brahms fan and have tried to “get” this concerto for many years. As beautiful as this performance is I still find the first movement way too long and ponderous. The second movement is pleasant but not as memorable as I wish it were. But if you make it through those two you are treated to a scherzo-like finale which is one of the finest things the composer wrote.
The disc concludes with another 21st century concerto. This one is by the venerable John Harbison is an arresting and powerful piece. Unlike the Rihm and even the Brahms Harbison relies upon a great deal of solo and duo material for the featured soloists with the orchestra participating when it is allowed. This is a multiple movement piece with many moods. It is a virtuosic venture for orchestra and soloists.
The performers in this recording, though not familiar names to this reviewer, are clearly world class performers who go fearlessly into new music and have mastered the old. Jan Vogler is on cello and Mira Wang is on violin. The orchestra is the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They are up to the seemingly considerable challenges under the guidance of Peter Oundjian. And the recording is lucid and warm.